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.
PS – 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).