Karen Larson stared through teary eyes at the smoke rising from the remains of a barn that used to house 15 of her friends.
Now the barn and Larson’s friends — three miniature donkeys and 12 goats — are gone, victims of a fire that decimated the single-story structure at 8986 Guilford Road on Thursday morning.
She pointed to the pasture behind the pole barn, where the animals used to roam their share of the 13½-acre property.
“They’d be way back there and I could just go ‘baaaaah,’ and they’d say ‘oh that’s just Grandma’ and they’d all come running to me,” she said.
Larson moved to the township in 1991 and began raising goats. She built the barn four years later.
She said she hand-delivered every one of her goats and gave them names. The oldest goats, six of them, were 2 years old. The youngest were born in March.
Some time after 8 a.m. Thursday, she said she smelled smoke. As she attempted to start a riding mower in front of the barn to get it out of the way, the window behind her exploded, catching her hooded sweatshirt on fire.
Guilford Township Fire Chief Jerry Winkler said his department received the call at 8:27 a.m. and firefighters arrived at 8:30 a.m.
He said Larson already was hosing down the office building that stood only 30 feet from the burning barn. That building houses 20 dogs.
“She probably did more to save that building than she realizes,” Winkler said.
He said the barn was fully engulfed and unsalvageable when firefighters arrived, so his department focused on keeping the office dampened, and then put out the fire at the corner of the barn nearest the office.
The heat melted the Plexiglas window and exterior halogen lamp of the office building, while a cherry tree that stood mere feet from the burning barn was singed.
Winkler agreed with Larson’s assessment that rain and southwesterly wind were crucial in keeping the fire from spreading to the office building.
Winkler said there were 40 bags of wood chips and a hundred bales of hay in the barn and that the hot spots they created kept his crews working long after the 24-by-72-foot pole barn was down and the blaze was out.
The scene was cleared at 10:43 a.m., Winkler said. Westfield, Rittman, Sterling, Canaan, Lafayette, Wadsworth and Lodi fire departments provided mutual aid.
Winkler said the department has not yet assessed the actual value of the damage and they are still investigating the cause of the fire.
Later Thursday, Larson looked at a blanket that covered a spot where the three donkeys lay, and said she was grateful for the compassionate act by the firefighters.
“It was a bad day on the ridge,” she said. “It’s gonna’ be worse at bedtime.”
Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.