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W.Va. hog farm fire rekindles

March 16, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Firefighters on Tuesday were called back to the scene of a weekend blaze at a hog farm after the fire rekindled in some hay, officials said.

Firefighters worked under floodlights to douse the hay and the remains of a burned-out barn Tuesday night. As many as 400 animals may have died.

The state Fire Marshal's office sifted through the remains during the day, but the cause of the Sunday morning blaze at Shannon Donley's farm remains undetermined, said Ross Morgan, assistant chief of the Shepherdstown Fire Department.

The three-level barn, thought to be built before the Civil War, was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived after receiving the call about 3:30 a.m. Sunday, said Morgan.

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Donley said about one-third of his hog herd was lost in the blaze.

Although Donley could not say exactly how many hogs he had, there were about 1,200 on the farm three months ago.

In December, the Jefferson County Zoning Board of Appeals approved Donley's plans to open a hog processing facility on his farm despite opposition from some neighbors.

Donley raises hogs in an agricultural zone, but land-use regulations do not allow meat processing facilities.

Neighbors said they were worried about odor from the facility, about waste from the plant reaching groundwater supplies and about a big corporation taking it over should Donley ever sell it.

Donley said he didn't think the fire had anything to do with opposition to his plans.

Donley said at the time there were misconceptions about his plant, including the fear it would be similar to huge hog farms in North Carolina. He said his plant would produce less waste than a family living in a three-bedroom house.

The farming equipment destroyed in the blaze included new equipment Donley had bought for the plant. But Donley said the fire will not affect his plans to build the facility, where about 140 hogs a month will be processed.

"This isn't going to stop me," said Donley, surveying the damage across from his home Tuesday night.

Donley, a fourth-generation farmer, said the barn had been used by his family since it was built to raise livestock.

Some equipment and animals were still in the bottom level of the barn, but an unstable floor over the area prevented their retrieval, Donley said.

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