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What Went Right at the Fire

Published: 7/24/2009
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By Maddy B. Gray

My friend called at 4 am and I knew it wasn’t to get together for coffee.
“We’ve got a fire! Please come!”
I got dressed, jumped into my truck and sped the few miles to her house as worst case scenarios raced through my head:
The horse barn is on fire.
The horses are closed in it. My mind raced to that dreadful Windham, Maine fire earlier this year in which eight horses perished.
The horse barn is on fire.
The horses are closed in it. My mind raced to that dreadful Windham, Maine fire earlier this year in which eight horses perished.

I pulled into the driveway and saw the scene:

The two-story carriage house that sits 20 feet from the horse barn was billowing smoke. Barbara had a hose on it. The fire department hadn’t shown up yet.

I asked immediately about the horses. She told me they all four of them were out of the barn.
There wasn’t another hose and who was I to play hero? In any case, I wanted to confirm the horses’ safety first and foremost.

Top photo: Fire crews arrive.
Bottom photo: Horse in the dark, barely visible on the safe side of locked gate.

I went into the barn, grabbed a rope halter and a can of treats and headed out into the dark.
Three of them were racing around in the hill pasture. I counted them and watched for a second to see if they were racing around in a healthy fashion (no limps, gimps, or encumbrances). They seemed agitated but otherwise fine.
I checked the side pasture for the fourth horse, a rescued mare, still underweight and new to the farm. She, too, was nervous but fine.

Ok, now I could breath.

Barbara lost her carriage house but her house and barn weren’t touched, thank goodness.

It was a quick, hot, and devastating fire.
In the crisis, she did exactly the Right Thing:
She got the horses securely away from the fire and made sure that if they felt like retreating to the barn for safety, they would not be able to make that tragic mistake.

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7/24/2009 cindy
Oh my God Maddy, thankfully you where "on call" People do not realize how fast a horse can die from smoke! I have taken a few of the large animal rescue courses "Hill N Dale Farm" and I realized how important it is to get the horses out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!You can tell the rest of how short that window is!
7/26/2009 Barbara
First of all, I am so fortunate to have Maddy as a dear friend, close neighbor, and first responder to any of my farm crisis on my cell phone speed dial. While we have spent the last week traumatized with the "what ifs" we have had a few minute to reflect on what we did right and what we might have done to improve the situation. First that comes to mind, I should also have had Maddy's home number on speed dial, too. Cell phones can't be counted on in the middle of the night, particularly if they are not handy. I got lucky. Second thought: My husband jumped into our truck which was in front of one bay of the garage and had burning debris covering the hood. He pulled it away from the structure. He was successful in securing the right hitch, while I poured water on the back of the trailer with the garden hose to try to minimize the damage. What would have been easier and perhaps smarter? We all have safety cables on our horse trailers. We could have simply hooked those onto the truck and pulled away. While this is not a great solution for any distance and it has the potential for digging a trench in your driveway, it would work and could save precious time in an emergency. I have also become acutely aware of any potential fire hazards that have sort of been on my radar, but put off for another day. Those sweet little barn swallows that love to build their nests year after year in the barn on top of the light outlets. As soon as the babies fly, the dry tinder of their nests are now history. Cob webs are brushed away. Appliances and electronics are unplugged until needed. Electrical cords and extension cords are not coiled on top of themselves or bound by wire ties. I have always been a bit compulsively tidy, but am now looking for more ways to keep safe. A few things that I think saved me some time: I always place a set of clothes in my bathroom that I can wear the next day or jump into without fumbling around in the dark, if an emergency presents itself. In the same line of thought, I keep a pair of boots or shoes by the closest door to the barn and the most likely door I would exit on my way out. My cell phone is in a charger overnight within a few feet of this door and readily available. I have already mentioned having critical neighbors like Maddy and a couple of others who are knowledgeable about the farm and the animals on speed dial. Remember, home numbers are as important as cell phone numbers when you are calling off hours. I have practiced "what if" emergency scenarios in my head during endless hours of mucking. This quiet time can be very productive and makes emergency responses automatic, if the time comes. They now believe our carriage house fire was an electrical malfunction. It was an extremely hot fire that could have easily taken our barn, horses and home. If we had not been home, we would not have heard the explosion or seen the glow in the sky. We are now going to build a small garden shed where any flammables such as propane tanks, fuel cans for tractor, chain saw, weed whackers, mowers, etc can be stored away from the buildings.

"Speak kindly to your little horse, and soothe him when he wheezes, or he may turn his back on you, and kick you where he pleases" - Anonymous