BELFAST, Maine — The city once known for its chickens lost 72,000 of them early Thursday morning in a fire that also consumed a three-story, 500-foot-long poultry barn on the Back Searsport Road.
“Things happen, I guess,” said Merle Grass, the owner of the 1976 chicken barn and the last large-scale raiser in the area. “I probably won’t rebuild. The cost is going to be a lot more than my insurance is going to pay.”
Grass has been raising chickens since 1964 and said that Grass Farms is a small, family operation. He has no current plans for the Back Searsport property.
“I guess my son-in-law has lost his job,” he said ruefully.
The family does not own the chickens, but raises them to be egg layers under a contract from Maine Contract Farming in Turner. That company likely had insurance on the chickens themselves, Grass said.
“They were 16 weeks old. They would have gone out in one more month, when they start laying,” he said.
A tenant living in Grass’ house was the first to notice that the building was on fire.
Belfast Fire Chief Jim Richards said that the barn was already blazing when his crew arrived about 2 a.m.
“When I got there, within 10 minutes, everything was gone,” Richards said.
About 35 firefighters turned out, including mutual aid crews from Searsport and Morrill. They spent a lot of their time hauling water to quiet the smoke, Richards said. He estimated that the firefighters used 50,000 gallons from Thursday morning until the afternoon. No firefighters were injured.
The structure was completely consumed by fire, so determining a cause would be impossible, Richards said.
Grass still has chickens, with 112,000 being raised in a barn on Route 3 and another 30,000 on Route 137. But the fire has greatly affected his business.
“It got a lot smaller real quick,” he said.