CHATHAM TWP. — The barn fire in which one horse died Wednesday morning at Double D Farm was Darlene Crumley’s worst nightmare.
Crumley, whose mother, Carole Hassell, co-owns Double D, 8088 Chatham Road, with Carl Ackerman, said the farm is a family-owned operation and a place she is proud to have her name affiliated with.
She said her husband, Jevon, is the farm foreman.
“I grew up there and spent almost every day riding there. Our family has dedicated the past 20 years to the horses, and the farm was home to 200 horses and 12 stallions at one time. I have watched my mother stay up all night helping the mares give birth to 30 to 60 foals every spring for over a decade.”
She said Thomas Ferrara, one of the stablehands who was starting morning chores, noticed smoke and then a flicker of flame in straw bales that had had been unloaded the evening before in a smaller building connected to the main barn. He ran for a fire extinguisher, but realized the fire was spreading too rapidly to control, so he called Jevon Crumley, who in turn called 911.
Ferrara, fellow stablehands, Enos Keim, who works on an adjacent farm, and neighbor Joanne May began to release the horses.
Crumley said her heart sank when she realized her favorite riding horse, a 5-year-old gelding named Commanche that she raised from birth and trained, was in the barn.
“Usually he’s turned out at night in good weather, but he got a small cut the night before, so I left him in his stall for fear of the cut getting dirty and infected,” she said. “He is priceless to me, and Thomas grabbed him first, because he knew this. They are true heroes, and I will be forever grateful to them for saving Commanche and all the other horses.”
The 35,000-square-foot, 20-year-old building had been sprayed with a fire retardant and equipped with fire sensors that send a signal to fire departments, but despite those precautions, the fire spread quickly, Crumley said, adding Ferrara and the others also tried to move as much equipment as they could out of harm’s way.
The stablehands, who lived in apartments above the barn, lost everything in the fire, she said.
The only horse they couldn’t coax out of the barn was Agacerie, a 27-year-old mare. She was a retired racehorse who earned nearly $400,000 during her career on the track, Crumley said.
She said the outpouring of support and offers of assistance are heartwarming.
“People have called and e-mailed to show their sympathy and offered space on their farms, opened stalls, offered grain, hay and tack if we needed it,” Crumley said. “One neighbor on Ballash Road offered us stalls for free, and Pegasus Farm said they’d loan us 50 portable stalls.”
The horses have been turned out in pastures on the farm.
“We have 110 acres, and the pastures have loafing sheds, so the horses can shelter from rain and wind,” Crumley said. “Right now it’s OK, but when it gets hotter and the flies are bad, we’re a little worried about what to do. We might put up a tent and use the portable stalls if we have to.”
Township Fire Chief Byron Fike said Thursday the fire remains under investigation and it could be several days before a cause can be determined.
The building was fully engulfed and the heat so intense when firefighters arrived after 7 a.m. that they had to reposition one of the trucks because they thought the paint was going to blister, Fike said.
“There are two barns, and we came in thinking the worst,” he said. “We tried to save what we could, but there was nothing left.”
Six departments provided mutual aid to fight the blaze and remained throughout Wednesday afternoon to spread foam over the smoldering remains.
Although a small rekindle occurred about 9:30 Wednesday night, Fike said firefighters continued to use a trackhoe to break up remaining piles of hay and debris that might otherwise harbor embers that could cause more flare-ups.
The fire destroyed one barn, the adjacent hay and straw storage building, and several pieces of equipment, Fike said.
Crumley said a damage estimate could be as high at $1 million, but the losses are still being evaluated.
“I am absolutely broken-hearted, and this was such a great loss, but I also feel very blessed that this happened during the morning and not in the middle of the night,” she said. “It could have been much worse.
“We are trying to stay strong, and our focus will continue to be on the horses, just like always. We have begun to make plans on rebuilding a smaller, but safer structure made of steel and cement block.”
Contact Judy A. Totts at (330) 721-4063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.