GOULDSBORO, Maine — Despite suffering the enormous setback this week of losing its main barn and dozens of animals that were inside to fire, Darthia Farm will continue to operate this summer, according to its owners.
Bill Thayer, who with his wife, Cynthia Thayer, has owned and operated Darthia Farm since 1976, said Friday that they plan to replace the barn, a post-and-beam structure built in 1859, that was destroyed in Monday’s blaze. He hopes the barn can be rebuilt by the fall but replacing the animals is expected to take longer. He said it doesn’t make sense to acquire new animals if you don’t have a suitable place to keep them.
“We’ll come very close to duplicating what was here,” he said, standing in the driveway between his house and where the barn used to stand.
A relief fund already has been set up at a local bank and some people have started donating money and building materials to the reconstruction effort. One local carpenter has begun work on new barn doors for the anticipated building, he said.
Shortly after midnight on May 7, the now-demolished barn housed 18 sheep, 60 chicks, three draft horses, two calves, two pigs and some 400 bales of hay. On Friday, all that remained where the 48-by-36 foot structure once stood were some concrete slabs and a muddy pit.
Thayer said Monday’s fire has been a traumatic experience for him, his family and their apprentices. He awoke around 2 a.m. Monday to the sight of red flashes coming through the window of his and Cynthia’s bedroom, he said, and thought an ambulance was in their driveway. Getting out of bed, looking out at the barn and seeing flames “everywhere,” he said, was like “a nightmare.”
The fire nearly spread to their house and detached farm store, according to Thayer. The intense heat melted a cooler and an animal carrier just outside their house and scorched a sign on an exterior wall of their home. The heat also damaged a horse-drawn manure spreader that was parked outside the barn, but Thayer said he may be able to repair it.
He said they tried to rescue some animals from the barn and that Cynthia was burned on the side of her face during the effort. The flames and searing heat kept the farmers back, rendering them helpless as the animals inside perished.
“We tried to get them out,” Thayer said. “It was an inferno when we got out here.”
Thayer said the loss of the three horses is especially painful for him. Among other things, the horses were trained to drag logs out of the woods on the 100-plus acre property. One of the horses was 29 years old and had been with the Thayers since it was 8 months old, he said.
“The horses were a big loss to me,” the farmer said.
He said there was too much damage to determine how the fire started but that the likely culprit was a heat lamp that was being used to keep the chicks warm through the night.
Friends and neighbors of the couple have been quick to offer a helping hand. Many people have stopped by to offer support, he said, while some have taken other steps to help the farming couple recover. Thayer, a Gouldsboro selectman, said young children from the local school come spend half a day at Darthia Farm every fall, so many residents are familiar with the farm.
Organizations also have gotten involved in the effort to help the Thayers rebuild. Bar Harbor Bank & Trust, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Breaking Even Communications, and Schoodic Arts for All are among the organizations that have drawn attention to the Thayers’ plight in hopes of generating support for the couple.
An account has been set up at the Winter Harbor branch of Bar Harbor Bank & Trust where people can donate money to help the Thayers. Checks can be made out to Darthia Farm Phoenix Fund and can be mailed to the bank at P.O. Box 159, Winter Harbor, ME 04693.
In addition, a website where people can make donations has been set up online at GiveForward.com. The fundraising goal at the GiveForward webpage is $50,000.
Music benefits also are said to be in the works, though specific dates and locations for the events have not yet been set.
Thayer said Darthia Farm plans to go ahead with its community supported agriculture program in which participants pay a lump sum to the farm in the spring in exchange for regular installments of food from the farm throughout the summer and fall. He said the farm store also will be open this year, selling its usual assortment of vegetables, jams, jellies and other items.
Thayer said some animals survived the blaze, most of which were in other barn structures on the property when the fire broke out. The Thayers still have about 35 layer hens for producing eggs and three roosters. They have three cows and about 50 bales of hay that were in another outbuilding. One chick that was inside the barn but somehow survived is being nursed back to health by one of their apprentices, Thayer said.
“Some luck has occurred here,” Thayer said.
The couple has been offered animals and may accept some, even if it will be months before the new barn is built. One person offered to give them 25 chickens once the birds are big enough to survive outdoors, he said. Ellsworth Feed & Seed has given them some free supplies and has offered to give them two piglets, free of charge. Another person has offered to give them seven lambs.
Others have given them money, he added. One friend traveled from Winterport and gave Thayer $300 cash as she left. Other people have come up to him in public and shoved $100 bills in his hand and one little girl gave them $9 — all the money she had saved up in a piggy bank.
“It’s got to be in the hundreds now,” he said of people who have offered emotional or financial support.
“I’ve cried because of sadness and I’ve cried because of happiness that people have been so generous to us,” Thayer added. “It’s unbelievable. It gives you faith in humanity, for sure.”
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.