May 24, 2020

13 horses die in Aroostook stable fire; 8 saved

HAMLIN – Thirteen horses perished in a fire early Tuesday at a stable and losses were said to be $200,000 or more.

Eight other horses at the same farm were saved through the efforts of the owner, Gene Desjardins, a friend, Jeff Mechalko, and a local firefighter.

The cause of the fire was not determined Tuesday.

Desjardins, 63, said his loss includes $100,000 for the building, about $50,000 for the 13 horses, and about $50,000 for a tractor, truck and all of the equipment for the horses inside the building.

Demolished in the Route 1A fire was a 350-by-60-foot building that included a 120-by-50-foot indoor riding arena. Part of an attached barn was saved.

“This just about destroyed everything I had built up over the last 35 years,” Desjardins said Tuesday morning. “I guess this is the time to retire.”

Desjardins said he probably would sell the horses that were left.

“I had no insurance,” he said. “It’s so expensive for a facility like this, I just could not afford it.”

Desjardins started raising horses in the late 1960s. For the past 16 years, he has been working with a mentally handicapped group on a program using horses to help clients.

He said he had 21 horses in the facility, which had 29 stalls. Nine of the dead horses were his, three belonged to Andrew Collins of Madawaska and one to Diane Daigle of St. Agatha.

“I kicked in a side door, and Jeff went in the back door to get horses out,” Desjardins said. “It was very hot, very smoky. I went in and out three times to get my best horse, but he never made it,” he said. “At first, I could hear him fighting to get out, and then the third time I could not hear him anymore.”

The fire was noticed by Gene Ouellette, a tractor-trailer driver and Desjardins’ neighbor, who was leaving with a load shortly after midnight.

Ouellette stopped to alert Desjardins, who was still up. The Van Buren Fire Department received the call at 12:20 a.m.

Assistant Fire Chief Peter Madore said 45 firefighters from the Van Buren department and from St. Leonard and Grand Falls, New Brunswick, fought the fire for hours. Some firefighters were at the scene into Tuesday afternoon.

“It was a bad one, but no one got hurt and that’s a good thing,” Madore said. He said the stable was in flames when firefighters arrived.

Madore said they were unsure of the cause and that a state fire marshal was expected later Tuesday.

Madore said the fire appeared to be accidental, and there was no appearance of foul play.

Desjardins’ home, about 200 feet from the fire, was not damaged. The home had about $40,000 in damage from a fire about six months ago, the homeowner said.

Firefighters used 80,000 gallons of water, shuttled by tankers from the nearest fire hydrants, about one mile away.

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