JOHNSTOWN - A barn that was the scene of an animal abuse investigation involving goats three years ago collapsed into a burning heap Sunday night, killing almost 200 sheep and goats.
Sir William Johnson Volunteer Fire Department Chief Ken Felthousen Jr. said he and the Fulton County Fire Investigation Team were due to return to the fire scene this morning to help determine the cause. Robin L. Dillenbeck of Sammonsville, who runs the farm, said this morning she thought a propane heater may have been knocked over by one of the animals. The heater was being used to thaw frozen pipes, she said.
"It's still under investigation," Felthousen stated. "It was a total loss. We're going back out there today."
The posts from a barn are all that stand today following a Sunday night fire in Johnstown. The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
Neither County Fire Coordinator Allan Polmateer nor town Animal Control Officer Nancy Hart could be reached for comment this morning. County Undersheriff Kevin Lenahan said today his department is not involved at this point, but did respond to the fire.
"We had a deputy at a scene trying to get animals out," he said.
The scene at the barn - down a dirt road from County Highway 156 between Routes 67 and 29 - was quiet this morning. Remnants of the barn were still smoldering. A dead, charred animal lay on its back about 50 feet from the barn.
Dillenbeck said she had about 200 sheep and goats on the farm. She said she can only account for 11.
The farm was the scene of an investigation by law enforcement, veterinary and animal rights personnel in March 2008, when at least 40 dead goats were found. Officials said Dillenbeck, of Edick Road, was cooperative at the time and all the dead animals had been disposed of. Authorities also found 150 goats on the farm that were alive but in poor condition.
At the time, Dillenbeck was charged by the Fulton County Sheriff's Department with one count of misdemeanor failure to provide sustenance to an animal under the state Agriculture & Markets Law. Her case was handled through Johnstown Town Court.
Fulton County District Attorney Louise Sira she was unaware of Sunday night's fire, but said Dillenbeck in 2008 voluntarily thinned her goat herd.
Felthousen said the fire broke out around 7 p.m. Sunday. The Sir William Johnson Volunteer Fire Department was the lead agency. Assisting as mutual aid were firefighters from the Sammonsville, Ephratah, Meco and Pleasant Square volunteer fire departments.
"It was cold," Felthousen said, describing the scene Sunday night, as many pumpers and tankers fought the blaze simultaneously in subzero temperatures.
Victor Acquilla, a neighbor whose house on County Highway 156 was near the scene, called the fire into the Sheriff's Department's 911 Communication Center on Sunday.
"We were just headed out for pizza," said his wife, Sue Acquilla. "It looked like it was windy with the snow in the air, but he said, 'No, it was smoke.' We could hear the crackling."
Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.