50,000 hens die in fire

January 23, 1997


Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A total of 50,000 laying hens died and the chicken coop that housed them was destroyed in a Thursday morning fire at Hillside Poultry Farms near Chambersburg, officials said.

Pennsylvania State Police fire investigators said the source of the fire, which caused nearly $500,000 in damages, was electrical.

The burned bodies of the chickens were lined up row upon row in the cages in which they died.

Firefighters kept the fire contained to the 40-by-450-foot, 36-year-old frame building at the 1849 Letterkenny Road farm. Chickens in a nearby coop were not harmed.

Clifford Gayman, who with his brother Ronald owns Hillside Poultry Farms, said he was awakened at about 4 a.m. when an alarm signaled that the electricity was out in one of the chicken coops. When he went to investigate, he expected to have to start an emergency generator to get the electricity back on.


"I was the first one on the scene. I only live a half-mile from here," said Denny Clopper, assistant chief of the Franklin Fire Department.

Clopper said that when the first firefighters arrived, they entered the coop through the front door, found heavy smoke and felt intense heat, but could not find flames.

"We tried to find the fire for about 12 minutes before it broke through the roof," he said.

Firefighters from 17 units in Franklin and Cumberland counties, Pa., spent about three hours at the farm, Clopper said. Units were still putting out hot spots late Thursday afternoon.

Hillside Poultry is the single biggest egg producer for Lehman's Egg Service in Greencastle, Pa., Gayman said.

"We produce about one fourth of all of the eggs Lehman sells," he said.

Hillside employs 18 people, including those who work in the egg-packing operation, he said.

Gayman said the chickens that died were valued at about $2.50 each.

A flock of laying hens produces at a rate of 90 percent a day, nearly one egg per hen. Their egg-laying cycle lasts about a year, with the highest production early on. Production drops to about 60 percent at the end of the cycle, he said.

Gayman said the chickens that died had been in the coop for about six weeks.

He said his losses include the cost of the chickens, the profit they would have generated, equipment and the coop itself.

"It was an old building, but it did the job," he said.

Gayman said many neighbors came by after the fire and offered to help with the cleanup.

"We'll just pick a day and get started," he said.

He said he didn't know if the coop would be rebuilt.

He was philosophical about his loss.

"This is disappointing, but life is full of disappointments," Gayman said. "Some days are good. This is one of those disappointing days."

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