Thursday, January 28, 2010

70,000 Chickens Killed in Barn Fire

Belfast, Maine – It’s 2am, and I’ve been tossing and turning most of the night.  The familiar sound of a car pulling into my driveway and the red light from the brake lights gets my attention ‘Who’s here…and at 2 o’clock in the morning at that….

I raise the window shade from my second floor bedroom window in an effort to see who is there, and what I see makes my adrenaline race – the entire field next to my house, along with the surrounding trees – are glowing orange. At the exact same moment my brain yells ‘'Fire!’ in my head, a loud rap at the front door downstairs wakes up my wife, and a half a second later, a voice and flashlight both get my attention ‘Your barn is on fire sir!!’

My wife calls 911. The voice I heard from downstairs is a Deputy Sherriff. He had seen the glow on the horizon from two towns away, and drove until he found the source. Panic mode. Will the fire spread to the house? What about the woods? What about the chickens!!!

I can’t put on my shoes fast enough. I grab my camera gear, and I’m out the door in two minutes. What I see and what I hear next stop me in my tracks.

The sky is orange as high up as you can see. The entire area is orange...our house, the neighbors house, everything. Embers are floating gracefully up and over the trees and are being carried by a very light breeze. 
The only sound heard is the occasional crackle of the flames coming from the back of the barn. By now I’ve turned on my fire pager and I can hear multiple tones being set off to call multiple fire agencies and mutual support. To hear my own address on the radio, followed by the words ‘Fully engulfed chicken barn’ is something I won’t soon forget.
This is not your back yard hobby chicken barn. No sir. This is a 500 foot long, 40 foot wide, 60,000 sq. foot, aluminum sided, three floor chicken barn with 12 inches of sawdust in the roof for insulation. Huge commercial sized vent fans are used to draw fresh air thorough out the entire barn.
Inside are 70,000 helpless chickens.

The firefighters arrive by the droves. Now the stillness of the orange glow is punctuated by red strobe lights of the fire trucks. The eerie silence is now replaced with the sounds of diesel engines, fire radios and men yelling to grab the hoses and watch for live power lines.

One of the fire fighters claims to have seen a bald chicken making a run for it, last known direction was the woods. Perhaps he is the lone survivor. But this is Maine, and it’s winter, and if she had all her feathers, she might stand a chance of surviving
An hour has past, the barn and the chickens are now gone. The fire fighters tell me that there was no  sense in risking injury to fire personal when the barn was so far gone when they arrived. The best they could do was to make sure nothing else nearby caught fire, sit back, and watch.
As a former volunteer fire fighter, I knew the feeling of helplessness this can bring. Your there to do a job, but your hands are tied. It’s not worth the risk.
It’s 6:35 AM. The fire is still smoldering. The fire fighters are still standing watch over what remains of the barn.
The smoke…and the Sun…are now rising together.

Kevin Kratka is a freelance photographer and writer. He can be reached at
Image and text © Kratka Photography No part may be used without written consent. All Rights Reserved.

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