JAY — Raymond Fleury had just brought four of his cows into his barn to milk early Thursday morning when he smelled smoke.
In the few minutes it took to call for help, the historic wood-frame barn at 347 Old Jay Hill Road was burning, quickly igniting 2,000 bales of newly-harvested hay and killing cows, sheep and chickens, Jay Assistant Fire Chief Mike Booker said.
“At 5:55 a.m. Ray said he noticed smoke. He ran to call for help and he really got out just in time,” Booker said.
When the first firetrucks arrived at 6:15 a.m., the building was fully engulfed in flames, he said.
Four milking cows, 20 chickens, one sheep and a cat perished in the blaze. Horses and other animals on the working farm had escaped to the field between the barn and nearby Route 4, Booker said.
Thirty-five firefighters from Jay, Livermore, Livermore Falls, Wilton and East Dixfield responded to the blaze but there was no way the structure could be saved, he said. The farm and homestead date back to the 1800s.
There was adequate access to water from a nearby fire hydrant but Booker said the biggest problem was keeping everyone hydrated in the heat and humidity. There were no injuries reported, he said.
Edward Hastings, an inspector from the Maine State Fire Marshal's Office, was at the scene and determined the fire was accidental and caused by a light-bulb too close to the fresh hay.
The loss of livestock and property is estimated at $50,000. The building was not insured, Booker said.
Farmers from across the region are offering hay, feed and space to board Fleury's remaining animals, according to Kathy Beauregard at the Washburn-Norlands Living History Center in Livermore where Fleury has been a longtime employee and is now the historic farm manager.
Norlands is also offering to help in any way it can, she said. In 2008, Fleury took in many of Norlands' farm animals when a fire destroyed its barn.
“Ray has done so much to bring the Norlands farm back online. He has a long history here and he is part of the heartbeat of the center,” she said.
Fleury, who lives with his daughter, was not available for comment Thursday. Neighbors watching the fire said he had been haying the surrounding fields and had recently put the crop in the barn.
Sun Journal staff writers Ann Bryant and Terry Karkos contributed to this story.