Farmers picking up the pieces after New Milford fire
NEW MILFORD — Clatter Valley Farm owners Jeremy and Willow Schulz have been busy picking up the pieces after a two-alarm fire ripped through their barn on Town Farm Road Friday morning.
By the time firefighters responded to the blaze around 9 a.m., flames had already engulfed the 2,688-square-foot barn.
Jeremy said there’s “only so much” he and his wife can do at this point, but they have been cleaning up what they can.
“We’re trying to pick up shingles on the property because the pressure from the hose blew the shingles off the roof and there’s nails in them,” he said.
During the fire, he said, the horses ran through fences “because of all the sirens and trucks,” so there’s also “a lot of fence work and other repairs” to be done.
The Schulzes still don’t even know what they’re missing because the fire turned tools, plastic boxes and other items in the barn into molten, unidentifiable and unopenable masses.
“I had an aluminum tool bench that is now a pile of soup because it melted,” Jeremy Schulz said. “We had a drill press, generators, table saws, cordless drills, skill saws — just everyday stuff that you don’t even think about … There’s a lot more missing than we thought.”
Jeremy Schulz said adjusters haven’t been to the property yet, but there are numerous factors they will look at when they do arrive.
“There’s contents, there’s structure — there’s a lot of overlying different levels of assessment that must be done,” he said. “I’m not an insurance guy, so I’m kind of learning as we go.”
The Schulzes are the stewards of the land on which the barn sits. The nonprofit land is owned by the Connecticut Audubon Society.
Jeremy said Audubon will “definitely” be involved when it comes to planning what will be done with the severely damaged barn, but the Schulzes are “certainly planning to rebuild.”
“We hope that there’s a way to save the original lines of the barn, [which] has been a fixture on the horizon from [Route] 67 and that scenic overlook for so long — since the 1830s,” he said. “It would be a shame to have a structure there that’s less impressive not only for the community, but for the whole historical feel of that part of town.”
Jeremy Schulz said the fire started inside an electrical panel “where the service comes in from the road.”
“Our neighbor had heard a pop — he actually heard something,” he said. “Whether that’s what it was or not, I would tend to believe that it was because of how quickly it started.”
What happened to the barn is “such a shame,” said Jeremy, adding that fortunately, most of the animals inside the burning barn got out safely.
He said the fire department did “such an amazing job” of containing the flames and he can’t believe the fire didn’t spread further.
“You should’ve seen the size of the flames. We backed all our equipment away from the building because we were sure it was going to get a lot bigger,” he said. “We have these big shop doors, and they literally slowed [the fire] down and kept it from coming, to a degree, into the stall area.”
Jeremy said there was “a lot of smoke,” but firefighters managed to contain everything for “just enough time” so that the animals could escape.
“After a while, the smoke was so thick — even the fireman with the respirator had difficulty getting in there. It was so dark,” he said.
The Schulzes have put up temporary housing for the farm animals.
“We have running sheds. There is an overhang off of the barn on the backside … so that’ll shield animals from the wind,” said Jeremy.
There’s also part of the barn that wasn’t burned, he said, and although “not all of the stalls would be a good idea to use,” there are three that are “good enough for now.”
A GoFundMe was created to help the Schulzes get back on their feet and rebuild. The campaign had raised more than $4,000 as of Tuesday morning.
According to the GoFundMe page, donations will go to helping temporarily house displaced animals, repairing and restoring fences and a water pipe, feed and hay, cover fence and water pipe repairs utility bills and other expenses associated with rebuilding.
“We feel extremely fortunate to live in a community with so many people who have reached out,” said Jeremy. “Jo Jo’s Deli gave us sandwiches and Quiet Rein [Farm] brought us hay. We’ve had numerous friends and people we don’t know offer stall space and blankets for the horses — I mean, there’s no empty hole that would have had to be filled.”
People have offered to help in other ways, he added, and while they appreciate the offers, the Schulzes have had to say, “Thank you, but maybe not now” due to the conditions on the farm.
“Eventually there’s going to be a lot of cleanup to do, but this isn’t the time,” he said. “Right now, it’s so muddy up here, and this time of year with thawing and freezing — and then all the extra water we got.”
Schulz said the biggest challenges will likely have to do with insurance and whether or not there will be time to rebuild before planting season.
GoFundMe donations can be made at gofundme.com/clatter