BOONE COUNTY, Ind. — A fire that happened at a family-owned farm is under investigation by local authorities after it was deemed to be suspicious in nature.
Just after 9 p.m. Wednesday, the Thorntown/Sugar Creek Fire Department responded to the tree farm on a report of a new building that was on fire.
According to Lucas Dull, co-owner and pumpkin harvest manager at Dull’s Tree Farm, that ‘building’ is a new low ropes course that was set to debut to the public when the farm kicks off its pumpkin harvest on Sept. 24.
“At first it was disbelief because, you know, it’s so unexpected,” said Dull. “In my head, there is no way that this activity would be on fire, because there’s no power to it and it wasn’t windy enough to bring something in.”
With assistance from the Center Township Fire Department and Lebanon Fire Department, firefighters were able to put out the fire. According to the Boone County Sheriff’s Office, the damage was limited to the structure and no injuries were reported.
Dull said the low ropes course was their highly-anticipated addition to the more than 45 activities already at the farm, including slides, a hayride to the pumpkin patch and corn maze, barrel train rides, a small zip line, sling shots, farm animals and more.
Not only was it highly anticipated, but it was built from a labor of love. Starting this past January, Dull said he worked alongside his dad and a family friend who works on the farm, to begin putting buildings together. They were brought out in the spring and put into place, and throughout the summer, the different elements connecting the buildings were assembled.
“Being a family business and the size of the business that we are, we don’t just come up with an idea and pass it off to someone to make it a reality, we get to participate in that,” said Dull. “We really enjoy the long hours spent on projects like this because we know the fruitfulness of it. We love watching people enjoy these things when they come visit the farm.”
He estimates that the entire project was at least 1,000 hours worth of manpower — something that was well worth it for the joy it could bring to countless people. Dull said he couldn’t wait to show the farm’s visitors the new activity that allows for not only children, but the entire family to join in on the fun together.
“We were super excited about it because it had turned out really well and we had really high hopes for what it was going to add to the experience for people who come out to the farm during the fall season,” said Dull.
The final piece of the project was finished Tuesday, one day before the fire, Dull shared.
“Deemed it complete besides the fence around it. That’s the only thing we had left,” he said.
Dull said he was hit with a mix of emotions initially when he was called out to the fire and saw what was going on.
“We obviously had that kind of gut wrenching, so much work is just disappearing right in front of us, feeling,” said Dull.
Slides that once stood and creative elements for people to enjoy, like a half-pipe, are now completely gone without a trace. Despite all of that, Dull said this entire situation puts things into perspective.
“Even while we are still there that night talking to the firefighters, at the same time, we are saying nobody’s hurt, there’s a lot worse things that could happen,” he said.
According to Dull, it’s the positivity and beautifully overwhelming amount of support the community has shown, helping him and his family seek ways to push forward and work to get things ready for the start of the fall season.
“We had been kind of hyping up adding this activity. We don’t want to let people down and not meet their expectations. That’s one of our things we talk with our staff about is, people come to the farm with expectations, and our goal is to exceed those expectations,” Dull said.
Dull said they are hoping for a “miraculous way to reassemble and rebuild,” but he knows that could depend on a variety of factors.
“At same time we want to inform our customers and be as transparent as possible, so that they know where our heart is and what we’re trying to do for them, but also it may not be here for them to enjoy the season like we intended,” said Dull.
Dull said he is not only grateful for the immense support from friends, community members and even strangers, but also his own family, including his children. He said their excitement for the project fulfilled him with joy during a difficult time.
“When we finish a part of it they demanded the next day to come out and try it out, so it is a joy to do that,” said Dull.
Despite the devastation his children felt when they saw what happened, and their empathy for what happened, Dull said it’s also been an opportunity to share a great learning lesson.
“We get to use it as a lesson of teaching them that we’re not going to dwell on the negative thing,” said Dull. “While they get upset, they are so resilient just like kids are. They’re already encouraging us with the process of rebuilding and what’s that look like.”
“One of my kids, when I came home from being here, gave me 85 cents to help, so stuff like that’s pretty special, too,” he shared, choking up.
Dull hopes that anyone with information will come forward to authorities, but knows at the same time, they can’t reverse anything that’s been done.
“Our focus is on moving forward, but it would bring closure to know who or why or some of those details. We know that in the grand scheme of things, it won’t change much, but it’s more of knowing those things would maybe prevent it from happening again,” he shared.
Pieces of the project, including some of the elements and buildings, are still standing. Dull said he finds hope in knowing there is already a foundation to move forward. How that looks is still unclear, but he said they will do everything they can to help make this addition to their farm one that people can still look forward to.
“This being our biggest issue, there’s nothing in comparison to some things that some people are going through or dealing with,” said Dull.
The fire is now under investigation as suspicious by the Thorntown/Sugar Creek Township Fire Department and the Boone County Sheriff’s Office.
Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Morganne Carpenter at 765-482-1412 option 8.