FORT ANN — Dick Burch was back and forth between his burned barns and Deweys Bridge Road in front of it on Monday, as streams of farmers and well-wishers stopped to offer help.
A devastating fire Sunday claimed his massive barn complex, killing 60 or so pigs and 40 heifers. Quick actions of Burch’s family and firefighters allowed them to get 80 dairy cows out of the barn before fire spread, and rescue 11 pigs.
Burch said Monday that several pigs that got out of the burning barn were still roaming nearby fields and woods. He had the surviving cows taken to a livestock auction, as he no longer had anywhere for them to be housed.
Burch runs a dairy operation, and sells the pigs for meat. He was worried Monday about what the customers who had ordered pigs from him for pig roasts were going to do, including a festival in southern Vermont scheduled for the coming days.
“I’ve got to try to take care of my customers,” he said.
Burch said he did not have insurance, and wasn’t sure what he was going to do going forward. He said farmers and others had stopped by with money and offers of assistance, but he wasn’t sure whether he would be able to re-build.
Burch, who lives across the road from the farm, was loading hay in the northeast corner of the barn around 4 p.m. Sunday when the fire broke out. He said it started among the bales that were stored in the barn, but he was unsure how.
He said he didn’t think the tractor he was using had thrown off any sparks, and wasn’t sure if spontaneous combustion could have been to blame. Washington County fire investigators were still investigating the blaze Monday, and had not come to any conclusions regarding a cause, said county Fire Investigator Glenn Bristol.
Burch said he noticed a bale was on fire and used a fire extinguisher on it, which knocked the fire down for a few seconds. But it flared again, and spread too quickly, getting into the adjacent barn where the cows were located.
One farmhand who was there had his shirt burned off, it spread so quickly. Two firefighters had to be treated for heat exhaustion.
“It got so hot so fast,” he said. “It just got going every which way, I don’t know how it got going so fast. They (firefighters) did everything they could, they were here until 3 in the morning.”
Much of the hay had been in the barn for weeks, Burch said. The fire also claimed a pickup truck and at least one tractor.
The family farm had been in operation since the 1980s, said Burch’s daughter, Kim Donaldson. But her father had been a farmer for decades longer, she added.
Anyone who was interested in helping the Burches was asked to call 518-639-4042. An online fund has been set up at www.gofundme.com/burch-family-farm-fire.