DNR fines for massive chicken yard fire • Iowa Capital Dispatch
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DNR fines for massive chicken yard fire • Iowa Capital Dispatch

State authorities have taken action against three men they say are responsible for illegal fires that destroyed 10 large chicken sheds near the town of Villisca in southwestern Iowa last year.

One of the men, Tyson Means of Villisca, agreed to pay a $10,000 fine, according to a recent order by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Two other individuals, Shawn Gohlinghorst and Darrel Schipansky, were issued violation notices but no orders were issued in their case.

DNR fines for massive chicken yard fire • Iowa Capital Dispatch
The remains of the isolation buildings were later taken to a landfill. (Courtesy of Iowa DNR)

State law generally prohibits the intentional burning of buildings and requires their debris to be taken to a landfill, but there are exceptions for agricultural buildings. In this case, Villisca annexed the property, and burning the buildings came with additional requirements, such as getting permission from the local fire chief.

According to the DNR, that did not happen. The building fires broke out simultaneously around 3 p.m. June 29 and burned for hours. Each building was 50 feet wide and 728 feet long.

“There was no way there would have been enough fire and water resources nearby if this had gotten out of control,” said Kristi Burg, a senior environmental specialist with the DNR who investigated the situation.


The Villisca fire chief learned of the fires about seven hours after they broke out and determined the “fire was too large to extinguish,” the DNR order said.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources conducted a scene assessment the day after the fire broke out. (Courtesy of Iowa DNR)

There are several farmhouses nearby, as well as a liquid fertilizer storage and distribution site. The property is about a mile west of the town’s residential homes and businesses.

Smoke and glare from the fire could be seen for miles, said Brian Hamman, Montgomery County emergency management coordinator. Residents in four different counties called 911 to report the fire.

Villisca is near the county’s southeast corner. Hamman said the men burned the buildings after recent rainfall and that the fires have not subsided.

“From my point of view, there was nothing dangerous there,” he said.

Schipansky owned the property, and Gohlinghorst and Means later purchased it under contract. They razed the land to grow crops.

The men also neglected to check the area for asbestos. The DNR examined debris samples and found no asbestos, but “a thorough asbestos sampling could not be conducted because the buildings were completely burned,” the department’s order said.

The order states that in September and October 2023, Gohlinghorst and Means cleared the property of remaining construction debris and took it to a landfill.