May 22, 2018
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Fire destroys Farm House Cafe, but spares popular Balfour creamery

By Julia Bayly, BDN Staff

Twenty-four hours after a fire that destroyed their commercial kitchen and barn, Heather and Doug Donahue were sifting through the rubble and assessing what the future holds for their Balfour Farm in Pittsfield.

“It’s not much to look at the moment,” Heather Donahue said Tuesday afternoon. “The fire went right through the barn and kitchen and attic of the [building].”

The couple operates a small dairy farm with a dozen cows and produce yogurts and cheeses sold throughout central, coastal and southern Maine.

Last summer, after moving into a newly built tiny house on their property, the Donahues opened the Farm House, a farm-to-table cafe and store in the original farm building on the land.

“The Farm House kitchen and the attached barn were a total loss,” Heather Donahue said. “But the dairy farm, creamery and cows are all housed separately and were unaffected by the fire [and] we are able to continue our cheese and yogurt production.”

Donahue said she had spent much of Monday morning wrapping Christmas gifts and doing laundry before taking a break to deliver lunch to her husband who was working at the main farm building about a half mile away.

“We were just sitting down to eat when we looked up and saw a ball of flame coming from the Farm House,” she said.

Fire departments from 10 surrounding communities responded into the night, Heather Donahue said.

“I am just amazed that any of the buildings were left standing because of the conditions they had to work in,” she said. “It was snowing and cold and everything was icing up [and] the firemen were getting soaking wet and they were just troopers through and through.”

On Tuesday the state fire marshal was at the farm and Heather Donahue said it appears a block heater on a tractor plugged in at the barn may have overloaded a circuit and sparked the blaze.

The couple had hoped to expand and convert some of the building’s space into a bed and breakfast in the near future, but now those plans are on indefinite hold.

Portions of the building that were saved by the firefighters did sustain heavy smoke and water damage, Heather Donahue said.

“Right now we are waiting to find out about insurance before deciding what to do next,” she said. “All of our personal belongings were in that attic along with my office so all of the business records were lost — doing my taxes is going to be interesting this year.”

Offers of help from community members have been pouring in and Donahue said they are very humbled and grateful, but honestly have no idea what they even need at this point.

For now, they are thankful for the tiny house they call home was not damaged.

“For the immediate future we are all set with a roof over our heads and our animals are safe,” Heather Donahue said. “Everyone has been so kind [and] we really live in a great community.”

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