By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — A community garden barn and education center on Good Counsel Drive averted destruction over the weekend because a Mankato firefighting crew just happened to be in the neighborhood.
“The fire department was here in three minutes. The fire was contained in the upstairs hayloft, so the barn wasn’t destroyed,” said Lisa Coons, co-director of the Center for Earth Spirituality and Rural Ministry for School Sisters of Notre Dame.
Jeff Bengston, deputy fire director, said a crew had been training in the area and was headed back to its fire station about 8 p.m. Saturday when members smelled smoke as they traveled along Highway 14 just below Good Counsel hill.
They were looking into the source when the fire call was made and were dousing the flames minutes later.
Coons said the barn, which is always open, was full of activity that day, with people cleaning it and preparing for the upcoming gardening season.
The 1800s barn was donated to School Sisters and has been used as a community garden hub for 18 years. It serves as storage space for 130 gardening families and for Center classes.
The fire department set a preliminary damage estimate at $30,000. Coons said the barn is being aired out and the fire didn’t damage the downstairs area.
She said a fundraising effort will be needed to pay for damages.
Bengston said the cause of the fire is under investigation and no foul play is suspected at this time.