PHOTOS: Dogs and donkeys make it to safety but rare book collection destroyed in Lyme barn fire

Lyme, Hanover, Lebanon, Orford, Thetford, Fairlee, Norwich, Etna, Piermont, Bradford among towns responding

LYME - A two-alarm fire directly behind the residence of a Hanover dentist and her husband, who is a retired rare book dealer, flattened a barn that was built in the 1990s but was stopped just inches short of their home, which was built in 1889.

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    Dr. Elaine Neal was shopping at the Coop when she got a call just after 10:30 a.m. Friday saying that flames were roaring up through the red barn which is attached to the back of the Neal's residence by a short breezeway.  Dr. Neal said that her husband Frank was at the hospital undergoing a routine procedure when the fire broke out and was not likely to find about it for several hours.

    Firefighters managed to get inside the house and get the couple's two dogs out.  They also found the keys to a large pickup truck and drove it to safety away from where it had been parked next to the barn that was rapidly being consumed by the fire.

Photo courtesy of neighbor Emily Adler Boren

Dr. Elaine Neal (left) gets a hug from a neighbor over her fence as she watches her barn burn

    Fire crews responded from both sides of the Connecticut River to fight the blaze and then afterwards to help pick up more than 3,000 feet of hose that had been deployed to bring the situation under control using a hydrant connected to a pond near the Lyme village green.

    Michael Hinsley, who is the deputy chief of both the Hanover and Lyme fire departments, explained that, with the fuel load from what was essentially a tightly-packed library on the second story of the barn, saving the house from the encroaching fire was no mean feat.

Lyme Fire Chief Michael Mundy gives orders at the scene Friday

    "One of our firefighters who was downtown spotted the smoke and called dispatch asking if we had a burn permit and as he was going to investigate we got the first 911 call from a bicyclist who was going by (on the East Thetford Road)," Hinsley recalled.

    "The fire was very well established in the barn and with very limited manpower what we did was use the weight and structure of the barn to save the attached house," Hinsley explained, "By keeping the eve of the barn wet and cool from the outside we used it as a heat shield for the house.  Tactically it was the only move."

    A Hanover engine crew suited up in airpacks and made an interior attack, coming through the front of the house and setting up in the breezeway at the back in order to push the fire away from where it had already started coming through a vent pipe into the house.  "They cut it off and saved the house," Hinsley said.

A firefighter enters through the front of the house

Lyme Firefighter Charles Ragan operates the pump control panel atop a pumper truck

    The Neal's three small donkeys had stalls inside one corner of the barn and arriving firefighters managed to shoo them off to safety on the far side of a fenced-in field where neighbors arrived to try and take care of them.

    A plan to round the trio up and put them in a horse transporter for a trip to a nearby farm proved to be futile as the quick-footed donkeys outran every attempt at corralling them.  "It's fun to watch and God Bless you for trying, but this isn't going to work," Neal told her friends as she watched the impromptu rodeo break out.

Despite the smoke filling their paddock, donkeys named Jack the Nipper, Tootsie Roll, and Don(key) Quixote were definitely not having any part of the idea of moving them to a neighbor's field

In the end it proved easier to just rebuild part of their fence in order to keep them away from the charred barn

Fire operations and the extensive overhaul afterwards shut down traffic through parts of Lyme for four hours

Vermont News can be contacted at

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