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The Scarlet & Black

Local Family Loses Home to Fire, Community Steps In


 On Easter morning, Sunday, April 20, the home of Walter and Mary Barnes was set on fire in an act of arson. No one was inside of the mobile home, located on 15208 Palmer Ave. in Newburg, when it burst into flames. The arrested suspect, Grinnell native Matt Barnes, was a resident of the home along with his parents, his girlfriend and his two children.

Grinnell resident Nate Barnes, son of Walter and Mary Barnes, recounted what he had heard from a neighbor who reported the incident to the fire department.

“She heard a big bang and looked out the window and saw my brother running off from the scene. The place was totally engulfed in flames,” Nate Barnes said. “What [Matt] had done was take the gallon of Kerosene we had near the house and doused the rooms, threw some on the shed and then lit everything.”

According to Nate Barnes, a domestic incident that took place the night before had prompted the family to leave the home for safe measure. As a result, no one was injured in the potentially hazardous fire.

The Grinnell Fire Department responded to the incident around noon but due to the lack of working hydrants near the site of the fire, a water shuttle had to be set up. By the time the fire was extinguished, the property was a total loss, according to Grinnell Fire Chief Dan Sicard.

“After the fire was extinguished, I went south out of Newburg to check along the tracks for the suspect. I spotted an individual on the railroad tracks south of 340th Ave. at the same time a Poweshiek County deputy was flagged down by a 20th street resident who reported someone lit a fire in their barn. The 20th street address was backed up to the tracks where the suspect was located,” Sicard wrote in an email to the S&B.

Matt Barnes was arrested and remains in jail awaiting bond. The 24-year-old is currently being charged with second-degree arson for the Newburg fire. According to Sicard, this incident is only one in a series of arsons committed by Matt Barnes. In early April, he was charged for intentionally igniting two cars and a house.

Nate Barnes revealed that his brother, Matt, has been struggling with a drug addiction for the past few years. Therefore, at the time of the incident and prior acts of arson, Nate Barnes said he believes that his brother’s judgment was severely impaired.

“He was high on meth—really bad meth. He was paranoid and having a lot of paranoid ideas of what was going on in the trailer,” Nate Barnes said.

House Fire - Contributed
The mobile home of Walter and Mary Barnes was engulfed in flames, the result of an act of arson.

Although devastated by the total loss of property and belongings from the fire, the Barnes family expressed interest in helping the suspect seek psychological therapy. Meanwhile, however, the family is without a home.

“They’re moving into a camper on the site of the fire, but we’re hoping to have them back in a home by snowfall [of next year],” said Stephanie Dillon, a longtime friend of Mary Barnes.

Dillon, who is the manager at Casey’s General Store in town, and co-worker Nate Barnes have actively responded to the recent misfortune by organizing community support for the Barnes family.

“[The family is] originally from Grinnell, so they’re well-known in the community … The outpour has just been crazy. People are donating cash and items right and left … It’s just been amazing. The community has done what it always does when something like this happens,” Dillon said.

According to Dillon, the Barnes family received immediate aid from collaborative efforts by the American Red Cross and Second Mile.

“At the end of the year, when you’re all done and have all this stuff you don’t know what to do with, you can donate it to the Second Mile … clothes, small appliances, anything,” Dillon said. She encouraged College students and community members alike to donate items they are no longer using. “For instances like this, it comes in real handy, she added.”

Due to the collective efforts of Stephanie Dillon, Nate Barnes and others in the community, several benefits are scheduled in order to raise money for the family’s overwhelming loss.

On Saturday, May 3, a benefit consisting of a dinner, a silent auction and a raffle is set to take place at the Elks Lodge on 720 3rd Ave. from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. That same day, a karaoke benefit is scheduled to take place at Rabbitt’s Tavern on 721 4th Ave. from 8 p.m. to midnight.

The public is welcome to attend any of the benefit events. The greater community can help support the Barnes family by donating clothing, furniture and personal items. A donation fund has also been set up at the Grinnell State Bank for monetary donations to the Barnes family.

More information can be found on the Walter and Mary Fundraiser/Donation Facebook page. 

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