You’ve got a friend in me

This whole saga with the fire would have been much worse if it had not been for some phenomenal friends, family and boarders. From my husband’s best friend from childhood getting here before the fireman, to all of the community member and fire fighters, to friends I have only seen a handful of times since our 4H years to what were complete strangers, the people have been amazing through this.

The day of the fire, friends took off from work to load up and deliver and set up their own round pen panels so that we could have stalls. The horses had to live out for a few days until the smoke cleared up. I was only willing to bring them in to be grained while I could be with them. We had stalls set up that very day (in my beautiful indoor footing).


Calling boarders to let them know that the barn is on fire but there horses are okay is not a fun phone call to make. Rosie’s owner lives right around the corner as do Fern’s, so I called them shortly after to let them know that the horses were okay and not to come. One boarder I thought was out of town, so I did not call her and she found out from other people that our barn had burned – I feel terrible about that as she came running up in tears. Lazlo’s owner had not even had him here 24 hours before I let her know that her horse was okay but everything else was a complete loss.

People showed up with piles of halters (I only had gotten two out with the horses) and lead ropes, buckets – all sorts of “little basics” that are completely essential. Two people I had not met before drove out mid-morning to let me know they had some extra stalls and could take some horses for us. I ended up sending Whitman for two weeks since one does need a stall for stall rest. They wouldn’t take any money for board either (need to get a proper gift card for that one). Current and former employees came to help pull anything out that could be saved. Some of my high school students drove out to let us know they had a “work force” all ready and on call to help shovel up debris. It was two weeks before the fire was out and there was no way I would have taken them up on the offer – but was so incredibly touched that they did. A good friend and co-worker fielded all sorts of offers of help and acted as a clearing house so that I could focus on what needed to be done here. The fellow that had hauled Lazlo down for his owner was retiring and closing his barn – he sent down all sorts of buckets, trunks, and even saddles for us. We have met twice. People I have never met sent all sorts of stuff that Lazlo’s owner ferried back and forth in her station wagon for us. I tried keeping lists and taking pictures to help organize who did what and I have no way to list and keep track of everything. Sometimes a muck tub would randomly appear in the front yard. Considering my cynical nature – this has actually greatly increased my faith in humanity.

My poor husband was in the middle of the grape harvest and had loads to pick the day of the fire. Another farmer who has a similar harvester (these new harvesters are like space ships) came and ran our harvester and crew so that Mr. Beer Budget could stay on track with the farm and literally and figuratively put out fires at home. I didn’t make any mistakes marrying that man. He is incredibly stalwart and has a ridiculously impressive skill set.

I haven’t even gotten to all of the food and bottles of water that showed up. We could feed all sorts of masses of helpful people and ourselves. It is also amazing how much water you need when dealing with smoke inhalation. For the people on the front lines, I think our kidneys were all well flushed out.

We told the boarders that their horses could either stay and “camp”, or we would move them to a new facility temporarily or permanently with nothing but the best wishes, but everyone chose to stay. Lazlo’s owner (who again had not had him here for 24 hours) decided that even if it was going to be “rough conditions” for a bit that if we would go into a burning barn to get him out then his best option was to stay with us.

Speaking of the old campaigner – Lazlo decided that his day was best dealt with by taking a nap. This may be why at 23, Laz barely looks a minute older than when he left seven years ago. img_3146


Worst Nightmares Come True

Every horseman fears fire. I inherited a healthy paranoia of fire and the need for preventative measures from my father (who grew up and spent his life working in the petroleum business/its-not-paranoia-if-its-true). Our barn was built with a concrete first floor and metal conduit for the wires to reduce fire hazard and extinguishers by the door. It was a bank barn, so we had dutch doors into the stalls for extra egress points. Even with the addition, most of the dutch doors were left accessible. Boarders had all had it explained to them why the halters and lead ropes always had to be left just so and probably found me rather pedantic for it. Nothing however, prepares you for the moment you realize that your barn is on fire.

Fortunately, I had a terrible time sleeping that night. I was annoyed at Mr. Beer Budget Dressage for “breathing wrong” and keeping me awake and at Tug due to his snoring. I spent the night tossing and turning and was not looking forward to going to work on barely a few hours of sleep. Now I am so grateful for that sleepless night. A little after four am, I heard a weird popping noise and opened my eyes. I could see the reflection on the opposite bedroom wall of the strange flickering light. My stomach dropped to my toes and I was screaming “fire” and running out of the bedroom. I got to the door and added “call 911” to my yelling. It was a warm autumn and I was still leaving my barn boots on the back deck. I had those on in an nanosecond and was sprinting to the barn.

We had left three horses in that night. I had put the rest back out since it was such a mild night. Another fortuitous decision. Whitman had strained his suspensory and we had just gotten the diagnosis the day before, so he was on 30 days of stall rest. Lazlo had returned that morning to begin his retirement with us. His owner had brought him and all of his tack and equipment down. I had left Lazlo in since I didn’t want him to have to deal with new turnout in the dark. I left Ries in since he was Whitman’s turnout buddy and I wanted someone calm and sensible in to be a good influence on the other two. My three bay boys.

I came sliding to a stop outside the barn door and decided I could run in. Its funny because I can clearly remember all of the 911 training videos at work that always begin with “stop and assess the situation for safety”. Screw that. The smoke was billowing out but I was pretty sure I could get the horses and was sure as hell going to try. The smoke was billowing down from the loft but there didn’t seem to be much fire. I slid open Whitman’s door and he took off like a shot down the aisle. I got Lazlo’s door open, but he wouldn’t go. I ran down to Ries’ stall since fire was starting to come down into his stall. I got his door open and he didn’t want to go past the fire. A fear I had with the sliding doors when we installed them was that the plastic rollers might melt and I wouldn’t be able to slid the doors, but they all slid open. I got behind Ries and hollered for him to get up. He was his usual self and decided that mom was scarier than fire and ran. I got a halter on Lazlo and once I got him out of his stall, I was able to chase him down the aisle. The barn aisle was about 80′ feet long and there wasn’t more than a few feet of visibility at that point. I ran out of the barn and Whitman and Ries were both outside waiting for me. They couldn’t quite figure out why I had sent them out the main door rather than the door to the right that is their usual way to the pasture. I grabbed them and threw them into the indoor. I ran back for Lazlo who had run to the left and was waiting in my back yard. I grabbed him and threw him into the indoor as well. The power had quite by that time, so I had to led him through the man door. I was worried about the fact that Whitman was to be on stall rest and Lazlo was new to the group, but figured that was low on the problem list at the time.

I ran back down to the barn and contemplated trying to get in the tackroom to see what could be saved. I decided that was stupid and just watched. I was afraid that if I did that, then my husband would come in looking for me and we might miss each other in the noise and the smoke and disaster would ensue. I had no idea how loud fire is. My husband was up above trying to see if there was anyway to contain the fire after calling 911. I knew the barn was a lost cause and decided to go in and get dressed while waiting for the fire department.

We live in a little rural community so even though 911 toned the fire out right away, you still have to wait for fireman to wake up, get to the firestation, get turnout gear on and get the trucks to the fire. It was about 40 minutes between the call to 911 and water starting to hit the barn. I had hoped that maybe the fire could be stopped before the tack room was a complete loss, but when 120 tons of hay are burning, just containing the fire is a challenge.

Two friends with excavators came and helped use the machines to pull off parts of the roof and pull down the addition walls which allowed for my husband and a friend to save tools and equipment that could not have been saved otherwise. Family and friend turned out as quickly as they could to do as much as they could. I will be writing thank you notes for a very long time. The smoke was noticeable over a ten mile radius. The fire made the regional television news and was front page (with a fairly inaccurate story) news for the local paper. I do have to make a plug for Nationwide insurance – we had only recently switched and they completely came through for us.

At the end of the day, the adage of its only stuff has to be repeated over and over. We didn’t lose any horses and other than some minor irritation from smoke – the humans are all okay as well. Sleep comes a little bit harder. My husband says he’s had the fire nightmare many times over the years and it always goes the way in his dreams that it went in reality.

PSĀ  – I could write for pages and pages more on this, but it took me a couple months to work up to doing this much (I am going to push the publication date back to the date of the fire).