Mark Collier / Staff Photo
Berlin Fire Chief Miles Silk Jr., right and homeowner Brad Towne, left, are silhouetted against a column of orange flame in last week’s fire.
BERLIN — In addition to their neighbors, a tight-knit equestrian community in Central Vermont and horse lovers from across the country have rallied around the Towne family of Berlin in their greatest hour of need.
The support has been pouring in following the massive fire last week that destroyed the Berlin horse farm’s 4½-story haybarn and the family’s historic 20-room farmhouse.
A local 4-H club that Rita Towne leads organized a donation drive; the secretary of the Vermont Horse Shows Association created an online account for direct cash contributions; and the next door neighbors have stepped up, too. One couple provided a camper that the family has been staying in following the big blaze that began last Wednesday evening and burned well into the early morning hours Thursday.
As of early Sunday, the online account had $945 in donations.
“People all over have been coming in with food and bags of clothes and seeing what we need, and neighbors have invited us to their houses to shower. It’s been like Grand Central (here),” Towne said.
The cause of last week’s fire is not suspicious, according to investigators. It appears to have been accidently related to a piece of farm equipment.
This actually wasn’t the first fire ever on the property. The original farmhouse was destroyed in another blaze in the 1880s, and then rebuilt, according to Brad Towne, who is a third generation member of the Towne clan to call the farmstead home. According to Brad Towne, the big barn pre-dated the reconstruction of the farmhouse.
The Towne farm trains Morgan horses, and Brad Towne’s mother bred Morgans too.
On the night of the fire last week, dozens of volunteers helped guide 12 horses and a pony from the stable and arena to an outdoor ring to get farther away from the flames. The horse barn was unaffected by the blaze, but one of the horses whose stall was near the adjacent haybarn has still been hesitant to return to its stall, Rita Towne said.
“The day after the fire, they (the horses) didn’t say a word. They were in some sort of a shocked state. And some of them are still a little jumpy. And I am too!” Rita Towne said.
After the fire, two horses appeared to have colic, which can be fatal for them, according to Towne. It was presumably caused by stress, and a veterinarian assisted with medicine, she said.
But now, Towne said, the horses will whinny right back to her.
“They’re drinking and eating the way they should,” Rita Towne said. “They’re getting their personalities back.”
The property is still without running water and electricity, but Green Mountain Power plans to install a pole soon to get power to the horsebarn. The couple has been using a generator in the interim.
And aside from a few bales, the fire also consumed the couple’s hay supply. But the community has already given two weeks’ worth to the Townes, and a Vermont Horse Show Association contact has indicated others have enough extra to give to tide the family over for another couple months.
Rita Towne is on the association’s board, and her daughter, Bethany, is the organization’s vice president. Bethany Towne is also active in equestrain competition circles, competing in events from New England to Oklahoma.
It looks like the cats around the Towne farm are going to be OK too.
The fire burned off the tips of the family housecat’s ears. “Jack” also suffered burns to his four paws, which are still bandaged. He’ll remain at the vet’s for a few weeks more, but likely looks forward to returning to the family. When Towne’s daughter visited Jack, he fell asleep in her arms within five minutes, Towne said.
Even one of the barn cats has returned — a sure sign that the recovery is underway for the Towne family.
The online address for donations to support the Towne family is www.towneayrefarm.chipin.com/towne-ayre-farm.
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