TURNER — A community rallied to help a local farmer after a dramatic fire Sunday afternoon razed a dairy barn on North Parish Road.
The farmer estimated damage at $500,000.
Just after 2 p.m., fire broke out in a barn at the Caldwell Family Farm, prompting a fire and rescue response from Turner, Buckfield, Livermore Falls, Greene, Leeds, Minot, Livermore, West Paris and Auburn.
Due to the lack of fire hydrants at the rural location, tankers supplied water to the scene and trucks were used to pump water from a small pond down the road.
Neighbor John Pape was one of the first to respond.
"I moved all the animals away from the second barn," Pape said. There were about five horses and 40 cows.
According to Pape, the second barn was only about 20 feet away, and the burning barn's second story was full of hay.
Pape was able to move a pickup truck away from the barn, but was not able to save a van due to a dead battery. Pape said the last he saw of the van, the roof had melted from the heat.
There were dozens of neighbors and friends present to help with the animals, according to Pape, who said there was also a portable milking machine en route to help at the farm.
"Neighbors help neighbors in this neighborhood," Pape said.
By 6 p.m., blue flames sputtered from a utility pole in the rubble of the barn as fire crews doused hot spots. An excavator was brought in to assist with reaching remaining flames.
Owner Ralph Caldwell stood with friends and family by another barn, surveying the destruction.
According to Caldwell, the fire's cause was probably electrical, and it probably started in the barn's milk room. He said he couldn't think of any other cause.
"We got them all out," Caldwell said of his cattle. "Ninety in one and 40 in the other."
Caldwell said he was very grateful for the community response and was particularly struck by a young couple who happened to be driving by and stopped to help.
Flipping through a memo pad, Caldwell said he had asked their names so he could thank them. "Josh and Katie Houghton" was written in his pad, although he couldn't remember if they were from Phillips or Manchester.
Either way, Caldwell said, "I appreciated what they did for me."
As Caldwell watched crews work on the fire, he noted that the family built the barn in 1959.
"It served us well," he said.
The thing he said he was most sorry about was the young couple from Kentucky who had just been to the farm and had agreed to buy the milking herd and rent the barn from him. The family had just uprooted themselves, quit their jobs and moved their horses up to Maine.
"I just feel awful bad about that," Caldwell said.
Caldwell said that family was on the Ohio-Pennsylvania line, traveling north, when he called to tell them the barn was on fire.
"I told them to keep coming," Caldwell said. "I told them I didn't know what we'd do, but we'd do something."
He said he had empty houses waiting for them and that they would figure something out.
Caldwell said he's grateful to the family and neighbors who are temporarily hosting his herd. Greg and Gloria Varney from Nezinscot Farm deserve an "atta boy" for allowing his family to use their milking facilities, he said.
"That's a nice thing to do, because they don't need to," he added.
Caldwell said that when nobody gets hurt in a farm fire and all the animals are saved, "It ain't been a bad day — just could have been a lot better, that's all."
"We've got a nice town and a nice group of people who helped out," Caldwell said, giving credit to the many first responders and neighbors who rallied to help.
Caldwell estimated his losses at $500,000 and said that insurance wouldn't cover the total loss. As for rebuilding, he said he has no plans to do so yet.
It had already been a long day for Caldwell, who said he had not slept since 5 a.m. the day before, due to a trip to Kentucky.