FARMINGTON — A barn and indoor riding stable burned to the ground after a fire broke out at Knowlton Corner Farm early Thursday morning, killing a horse and leaving a family-owned business in ruins.

While her husband sifted through the rubble outside — still smoldering seven hours after the fire that started around 4 a.m. — Arleen Masselli stood in their farmhouse kitchen and tried to reel off a list of everything they lost in the blaze.

“We lost tractors, vehicles, snowmobiles, all our hay bales and the farm equipment that was right outside the barn,” she said, pausing to look out the window.

“That was pretty much all of our livelihood that burned up out there.”

Masselli struggled the most to describe the horse killed in the fire, saying she told the owner and preferred not to talk about details. The farm provides boarding for about 20 horses on the 60-acre property, she said.

Masselli, 53, and her husband, Robert, 52, hadn’t talked yet that morning about whether they plan to rebuild the barn complex, which was insured.

“Right now I’m just thinking about feeding the horses tonight, and the community has already been unbelievable in how they’ve come together to help us,” she said.

Franklin County Farm Bureau, other local farmers and neighbors pledged to provide them with hay and other assistance to help recover from the fire, she said.

Masselli also praised emergency responders for keeping the fire from spreading to her house, which is just a few yards away from the barn.

Despite intense heat from the nearby flames, firefighters doused the house with water from fire hoses. They also used the water to beat back the flames being blown by high winds from the barn toward the home, she said.

“The fact that they prevented this house from burning down is a miracle,” she said.

Masselli also credits the men who first noticed the fire with preventing further damage, saying she hoped to learn who they were since she didn’t get their names during the chaos following the fire.

At least two men driving by saw the flames shooting out of the barn shortly before 4 a.m.

Masselli and her husband awoke to the men pounding on the windows and doors of their house, where they live with two elderly male relatives and a longtime employee and her two teenage children.

Everyone got out safely, including several pets, and they ran across the street to a neighbor’s house. The husband and wife ran back to the farm to open a pasture gate for the nearly 20 horses in a fenced area attached to the barn. One horse that had been inside the barn died in the fire and four barn cats were still missing but hopefully got out in time, she said.

About 70 firefighters from eight area departments responded to the emergency 911 call reporting the fire at 3:51 a.m., according to Farmington Deputy Chief Clyde Ross.

The barn was fully engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived within minutes of the call, Ross said.

“They got there and went right to work on the house and saved the house,” he said.

High winds were the biggest threat to spread the flames to the farmhouse, which is on Knowlton Corner Road near Mt. Blue High School.

A fire hose was run nearly 3,000 feet from a reservoir near the high school to reach the farmhouse, and fire tanker trucks also shuttled water for fire hoses from a nearby source on U.S. Route 2, he said.

Despite temperatures that hovered just above zero, intense heat from the blaze melted some of the siding and shutters on the farmhouse.

The state fire marshal’s office is investigating the fire and did not return a request Thursday for comment on the cause. No injuries were reported.

Since buying the farm 15 years ago, the couple had invested thousands of dollars to start their own business, a horse-boarding stable that also specialized in training, riding and providing therapy for mentally and physically disabled people, Masselli said.

The indoor riding stable was 60 feet by 120 feet and attached to the three-story barn, she said.

In the weeks before the fire, they had also been working hard to add a commercial bakery. The brand new kitchen equipment burned in the fire a week shy of their planned start date for the new business, she said.

The couple had hoped to build on past success with baked goods they had been producing out of the farmhouse and selling to local stores.

They also had been steadily restoring the more than century-old barn structure, keeping it as close to its historic design as possible with fitted wooden beams and other classic features from the late 1800s, she said.

“It’s such a shame to see this happen because it was just a beautiful old barn,” Masselli said.

David Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]

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