Farm Fire Kills 23 Animals

Tuesday, November 04, 2014
South Royalton — Residents of the normally quiet Sherlock Road awoke early Monday morning to the sight of flames and the sound of exploding propane tanks. A recently restored 6,400-square-foot barn belonging to Royalton Farms LLC was ablaze; a complete loss .

Neighbor Vicky Trombly, whose husband, Michael, grew up on the farm, said their cat wouldn’t let them sleep. She got up around 4 a.m., looked out the window and realized why.

The “whole barn was just an orange glow,” she said.

Vicky Trombly called 911 while her husband ran to the house where he was raised to make sure residents were out of harm’s 

They were. Royalton Farms carpenter Jason Churchill, his wife, Gabrielle, two young daughters, Isabella and Sophia, and their dog made it out safely before the fire spread to the house, said Churchill’s mother Linda Bullis, of Newport, N.H.

Eight-year-old Isabella woke up the rest of her family after she spotted flames from her second-story window, which faces southwest toward the barn.

“I could have lost my family,” Bullis said.

Her family safe, Bullis mourned the property loss. She remembered the barn, renovated in 2011 and valued by listers at $175,000, as “absolutely beautiful.”

Shortly after 4 a.m., firefighters from six area departments — Royalton, Hartford, Sharon, Tunbridge, Bethel and Barnard — converged on the scene.

By the time they arrived, the barn was engulfed and they turned their attention to preserving the house, said Royalton Fire Chief Paul Brock.

“It takes a lot of manpower to fight a fire of this size,” said Brock.

He said hay stored in the barn combined with wind to fuel the fire, but he was unsure how it started.

“I don’t know if we’ll find a cause,” he said at the scene at about 9 a.m. “It’s a working farm; it could have been anything.”

In an email Monday afternoon, Vermont State Police Captain Ray Keefe said “an investigator was requested and Sgt. Steve Otis was assigned.”

Twenty-three animals — 15 pigs and eight cattle 
— were lost in the fire, Brock said.

In addition to the animals, Royalton Farms, which specializes in the rare breeds of Berkshire pigs and Wagyu cattle, lost a two-story genetics laboratory, which listers have valued at $61,800, that was attached to the destroyed barn.

The fire also leveled a 450-square-foot garage, valued at $4,700, attached to the nearby house. The flames moved on to damage the southern part of the house before firefighters were able to get it under control. They were able to preserve most of the home.

According to listers’ estimates, the building losses — including the barn and the garage — total more than $180,000.

At about 9 a.m., Churchill went in the building with firefighters and found a few valuables including his wife’s wedding ring, family photos and a pair of new work 

But after emerging from the building with his boots in hand, he said some furniture will be unsalvageable due to smoke and water damage.

Upper Valley Red Cross volunteers arrived on scene between 6:30 and 7 a.m., said volunteer Linda Nordman.

She said they provided the girls with stuffed animals and coloring kits, the whole family with shampoo and toothpaste and the family’s dog with food and bones. A volunteer went with them to a nearby temporary shelter to assist with paperwork as they file for additional relief.

“I just wish we could do more,” she said.

Other residents of Sherlock Road experienced a power outage and were unable to pass the fire-stricken property for several hours while fire hoses crossed the road. Electricity was restored by 1:15 p.m.

Brock, who does field work for Royalton Farms — which owns three other farms in Royalton — said that while the fire caused significant damage, “I don’t think it’ll set them back. It’ll continue.”

He said the three-year-old business targets high end markets in the larger cities of the Northeast.

A Royalton Farms representative on scene Monday morning declined to comment or to share his name. Listers said the LLC is registered under the name Fraser Walsh.

Attempts to contact him via phone and email on Monday were unsuccessful.

With the help of an excavator from L.F. Trottier & Sons on Dairy Hill Road, firefighters continued to snuff out embers among the barn’s remains at 9:30 a.m. Brock anticipated they would remain on scene for the rest of the day.

Vicky Trombly described the event as a “sad tragedy,” but said she was “thankful everybody got out safely.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

Valley News

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