ANCRAMDALE—It’s a farmer’s worst nightmare and it happened at Millerhurst Farm, 3195 State Route 82, when the dairy herd and barn were lost to fire the night of October 14.
Michael Miller who, with his wife, Emily, owns and operates the farm that has been in the family since 1770, told newsman Lance Wheeler the morning after the fire in a video interview that he had finished up chores for the day around 5 p.m. “It seemed like another fine and normal day on the farm,” he said.
He hit the sack around 7 p.m. and shortly thereafter, his wife noticed the power flickering and then go off. She went outside to find smoke everywhere. Mike said he rushed out to try to save some of the cows but found the barn already engulfed in smoke and flame.
One cow in the farm’s dairy herd of 47 registered holsteins escaped the blaze, but all others perished. Young stock—calves and heifers—kept outside the main barn—were spared.
Jim Miller, Mike’s older brother, retired from the farm three years ago when he became Ancram’s highway superintendent.
He told The Columbia Paper by phone this week the total length of the barn was nearly 400 feet and was built in sections over many years. The milking barn had tie-stalls and a pipeline to carry the milk from the cows to the tank in the milkhouse.
Though Jim no longer has a financial interest in the farm, he said he still feels emotional over the loss of the barn and livestock. Mike, Jim and brothers Joe and Tom all lived and worked on the farm growing up. Tom still did the milking once a week to give his brother Mike a day off, said Jim.
His brother had put a load of grain corn in the silo earlier the day of the fire. Jim said he was at a tractor pull that day. He drove by the barn at 7 p.m. on his way home and nothing was out of place. He said he finished dinner, took his shoes off, but by 7:30 p.m. the fire trucks were on their way.
Looking out the window, his wife told him, “You better put your shoes back on.”
The barn fire alarm went out at 7:29 p.m. Ancram firefighters and the Community Rescue Squad were initially called in with mutual aid from Taghkanic, Craryville, Hillsdale, Copake, Livingston, Churchtown, Millerton, Pine Plains, Clermont, Germantown, Lakeville and Sharon, CT. Philmont and Egremont, MA, firefighters provided standby coverage.
Columbia County Fire Coordinators and the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office assisted on scene. The New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control and the Columbia County Cause and Origin Team, along with Central Hudson were all summoned to the scene.
Firefighters were back in service at 1:57 a.m., but many remained on the scene into the daylight hours.
Jim Miller, a life-member of the Ancram Fire Company, said officials did not tell him the fire cause, but he believes it is likely electrical originating somewhere near the milkhouse.
No one was hurt in the blaze. Jim said he was overwhelmed by the firefighters’ “professionalism” and “could not heap enough praise on them.”
Millerhurst land recently became permanently protected through the work of the Columbia Land Conservancy and Scenic Hudson, with funding from the state departments of Agriculture and Markets’ Farmland Protection Implementation Grant program. The Miller’s herd was award-winning. They grow all their own hay and supplement their income with a roadside farmstand, where they sell sweet corn, pumpkins and produce.
Mike and Emily’s son, Michael, had planned to take over the farm, but was killed in a snowmobile accident at the age of 25 in 2009, leaving a young daughter.
In the video interview, Mike said he would like to continue dairy farming, “I’m too young to retire and cows have been my life. I have a granddaughter who’s in tears as I am over the loss of the cattle. All we want to do is just live out our lives on the farm. It’s all any farm family wants to do and continue it on for more generations.”
Susan Klein has set up a gofundme page for the Millers, which had an initial goal of $20,000. As of deadline Wednesday afternoon, more than $97,000 had been raised with 955 contributors. To give visit: www.gofundme.com/millerhurst-farm-fire-tragedy.
Many community events are also in the works to help the family.
To contact Diane Valden email