A Double Tragedy in Amish Country

A fire near Canton, Minnesota claimed the lives of an Amish bishop and his son early yesterday morning. The cause of the fire is still unknown. An early report in the Star Tribune stated that there is no reason to believe there was anything suspicious about the fire.

What a tragedy. I know that the prevailing Amish attitude about his kind of incident is that the bishop and his son are now in a better place. But death by fire is absolutely the worst case scenario for anyone. The horror of finding oneself trapped by fire has to be universal, no matter what our beliefs.

Three people were taken to the hospital in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, treated, and released. Apparently they escaped the fire and their injuries were not critical.

The community in the Canton-Harmony area of Minnesota is a Swartzentruber Amish settlement. According to the newspaper reports, there are about 100 Amish families in the area. Because they are of the most conservative Amish, they would not have installed smoke detectors in their homes. In the last year in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, there has been a huge controversy about an Amish family refusing to install smoke detectors in their home. I don't know much about the Eau Claire community, except that it is a strict one.

I have never been in favor of trying to force the Amish to install smoke detectors in their homes, partly because I know it does no good. The more conservative the group, the more they will dig in their heels on issues that they claim go against their religious beliefs. I can only hope that what happened in Minnesota will convince more Amish families to install smoke detectors, if for no other reason than to protect their children. 

One thing I noted in the photos surrounding this tragedy, is that the Amish in that community are driving around in open-topped buggies in the extreme cold. It was so cold that the firefighters had to work in shifts to extinguish the fire. The thought of driving around in open-topped buggies in Minnesota in the middle of January just shivers me timbers.

I remember hearing from Anna about the rules in her Swartzentruber community. It was hard for me to fathom any Amish being that strict. It really makes me wonder if being that insistent on adhering to the old ways is sustainable.

Only time will tell…

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Photo by Saloma Furlong

Sunset near Canton, Minnesota

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16 thoughts on “A Double Tragedy in Amish Country”

  1. Too much thinking or reasoning among many Amish is, all tragedies are the will of God, especially when it comes to human life. How can a person change that mindset?

    1. Change of mindset within the community is nearly impossible. But obviously some of us do change, or we’d still be there. I’d like to think that if I was a mother of small children, I would want to protect my children. I am now so far from that thinking, that I have to be reminded of what it was like when I was still there.

  2. Loss of life which may have been avoided is always a tragedy. Perhaps on a brighter note there was fire at an Amish home in Galen, NY on Wednesday December 30th. I stopped by on Saturday January 2nd. A tragedy had became a joy when I saw 40 some odd Amish from the age of perhaps 8 to 80 stripping the interior back to the studs. On the 9th I returned to find dry up that was being finished and soon this family of seven will be back home thanks to the hard work of the community…both Amish and English. It made my heart feel good to see this coming together in a time of need.

    1. Tom, thank you for sharing the good news of how people came together in Galen. It sounds like there were no fatalities in that fire, though. The house in Missouri can be rebuilt, but the loss of the lives of Bishop Yost Hershberger and his son does not give this story a happy ending.

  3. Try as I might, it is hard for me as a mother and a grandmother not to, by nature, want to protect the ones I love. Its true that some times people die in fires even with smoke alarms and yes, their loved ones are in a better place, but I do not see what is wrong with wanting to keep those we love safe.
    Think about the things that people use to die from, theirs lives cut short by a terrible illness that a vaccine or a shot of penicillin can now cure. Last year I had to receive as a precaution a series of rabies shots, not fun but because of them I am still here.
    Smoke alarms that run on batteries (not electricity) seem like such a small thing I find it hard to understand their reasoning other than its what they have always done, or in this case, not done.
    All this aside a family has suffered a terrible lose and for that I am sorry and my prayers go out to them.
    Thanks Saloma, as always, for your insight and food for thought!!!

  4. I am so sorry to hear of this tragedy, Saloma. You bring up an important question about how much religious beliefs influence our decisions. Sometimes it does take a tragedy of this proportion get people to change. My heart goes out to this community and all they are enduring right now. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Kathleen, thank you for your comments. I would hope this will change some people’s minds, but I honestly am not sure it will. I feel so sad for the family members and all who are touched by this tragedy.

  5. I have been meaning to tell you how much I enjoy your photo’s. They are like the sound of your voice, peaceful and calm. The scripture verse, “Be still, and know that I am God.” comes to mind. Thank you for sharing them with us. You have a good eye!!!!

    1. Pamela, thank you for your compliments. It is nice to have someone as appreciative as you confirming that I am on the right track. I love that scripture verse… it is my philosophy summed up in a few words.

      Many Blessings to you.

  6. Just cannot understand what seems to be the lack of reasoning in regard to smoke alarm usage. If the belief is that “they’re in a better place” why not just let the children wander in the cattle area where there’s a dangerous bull, or let them wander into a creek or out in the road?

    1. Carol, you make a good point. Among the more traditional Amish, there is the prevailing thought that our whole lives (and our deaths) are already planned by God before we are born. Certainly this is a strong tendency towards the idea of destiny. But what they don’t seem to realize is that deciding NOT to install smoke alarms is a choice… how do they know they are not going against God’s plan for someone’s life?

  7. I am just now getting around to reading this post, Saloma. The Amish rule against smoke detectors reminds me of a similar rule against lightening rods. If an Amish farmer bought and occupied a farm with a barn with lightening rods installed, he would cut the rods near the ground and turn up the ends, rendering them ineffective. The rational was that if God wanted to punish the farmer with a lightening strike and burn down the barn, you should not interfere with God’s plan! With the same logic, an adult should not interfere with the 3-year-old who wants to wander into a busy highway. Sometimes it seems that such rules are excuses for irresponsibility, and I find those rules totally reprehensible.

  8. I know Amish that do use smoke detectors.And unfortunately I know a Family that had a tragic Flash fire.The damage is complete in 3 seconds or less.,before the smoke so very sad. :(

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