Fire destroys Amherst horse barn, apartment; 3 horses perish

  • Only a small portion of a barn, workshop and apartment at Muddy Brook Farm in South Amherst remain following an early morning fire on Sunday. STAFF PHOTO/SCOTT MERZBACH

  • Only a small portion of a barn, workshop and apartment at Muddy Brook Farm remain following an early morning fire on Sunday. —Scott Merzbach

Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 05, 2019

AMHERST — Three horses were killed and six others were rescued after a fire swept through a building containing a barn, workshop and attached apartment at Muddy Brook Farm early Sunday, according to the Amherst Fire Department.

The cause of the fire was under investigation, but it was not deemed suspicious.

Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson said firefighters received a 911 call at 5:47 a.m. from one of the three occupants, who all safely made it out of the building at 646 West St., which was already burning out of control.

After a box alarm was sounded, with Fire Capt. Christopher Bascomb on board the first engine to arrive, a second alarm was put out, which allowed mutual aid response from Northampton, Hadley and Pelham fire departments, as well as a Belchertown ambulance.

Once firefighters determined all people were accounted for, they went to a defensive position to attack the fire, which was generating significant heat, including melting a street lamp 30 to 40 feet away. Nelson said excavating equipment was brought to the site to tear down ceilings and combat other hot spots, as well as to determine the possible origin of the fire.

All permanent, student and call firefighters were called in, and joined by Nelson and both assistant fire chiefs, Lindsay Stromgren and Jeffrey Olmstead.

Nelson said he appreciates that functioning smoke detectors alerted the residents to the fire.

“This was a great case where the detectors worked,” Nelson said, adding that people are reminded to change batteries in alarms when returning to standard time from daylight saving time.

One resident who took in some smoke during the incident was brought by ambulance to Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton as a precaution, Nelson said. No firefighters were injured.

South Hadley District 2 fire department and South County ambulance provided assistance in town for other emergencies, Nelson said.

On Sunday afternoon, the damaged building was being knocked down and debris being cleared, with Muddy Brook Farm owner Barry Roberts on site overseeing the remnants being put into a large dumpster, and salvaging some items. Numerous people were on the property to assist with providing food and drinks to firefighters and other workers attempting to keep the farm functioning as normally as possible.

The building that was destroyed had stalls, the school horse tack room, a feed room, a boarder trunk area and the apartment for the family that does on-site maintenance. It was one of several buildings at the farm, which offers additional stalls, an indoor arena with lighting, and training and riding rings, including a large outdoor riding ring.

Nelson said there is no cause determined for the fire yet, though it is not suspicious and a joint investigation will be done by his department, Amherst police investigators and somenone from the state fire marshal’s office.

The blaze marked the third in the past week for Amherst firefighters, following a Friday night fire at the Hampshire Athletic Club on Gatehouse Road that has left that business closed indefinitely, and an Oct. 26 fire at a Greenwich Road in which a dog died.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.