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A firefighter's turnout gear at the ready.

WANATAH — A pole barn at a cattle farm near Wanatah containing more than 300 one-ton bales of hay went up in flames early Thursday.

Rita Shireman said all nine yearling heifers on the property were sleeping outside when the fire broke out. They were relocated to her family's other, much larger cattle farm just west of the LaPorte County Fairgrounds.

Shireman said she and her husband were awakened when a former student Nolan Sampson pounded on their door. Sampson was driving by about 2:30 a.m. when he saw the roughly 4,000-square-foot structure burning.

Shireman is a fourth-grade teacher at South Central School.

Firefighters succeeded in keeping the flames from spreading to a wooden barn, erected in the 1840s, about 30 to 40 feet away.

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"They were able to put some water on the side of that barn right away, and it was fine," said Shireman.

Cass-Clinton Township Fire Chief Larry Rust said the roof had already collapsed upon arrival, and soon there was nothing left of the structure.

Firefighters were still at the scene late in the morning dousing water on the smoldering, freshly cut hay.

"There is no building. It's on top of the hay," Rust said. He noted there was just a skid steer and metal equipment for raising cattle, like fencing, inside the pole barn.

The cause was not yet known, he said.

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