A lightning strike Wednesday afternoon quickly turned a McMinn County barn full of hay into a pile of ashes. Owner James Walden has been living on the property for more than twenty years. The storm was sudden and hard to forget.  

"Raining pretty good. I went in the house and about ten minutes later it sounded like a bomb went off," recalls Walden. "About two minutes after that someone knocked on the door and said your barn's on fire."

It was a couple who had seen the fire while driving by the Highway 39 West property near Athens. They even helped move equipment away from the burning barn so it wouldn't get damaged.

Meanwhile, Walden's daughter who lives next door called 911. Crews from several neighboring fire departments arrived within minutes. But by then, according to Walden, the entire structure had collapsed. It took hours to cool the fire down.

"They called the Forestry in to push it away from the other barn so it wouldn't burn the other barn," adds Walden.

Two days later the ashes still smoke and smolder. Thankfully, no people or animals were hurt.

Walden says his insurance payout is only enough to cover a partial rebuild and possibly none of the cost of all the hay that burned. Mother nature may have forced him into an early retirement.

"I may not cut anymore, 'I'll give it to my brother and let him cut it," says Walden.

He had filled the 36 X 48 foot barn with 275 bales of round hay and posted a "Hay For Sale" sign by the driveway just one day before the fire. He doesn't work on the farm as much as he used to and is taking quite a hit financially.

"I had it packed as full as I could get it," says Walden. "I guess that'll run anywhere between $4500 and $5500."

Walden didn't get the names of the people who pulled off the road and says he appreciates their help and the help of all the first responders.