Larry Musselman and Tammy McKendree returned to their Allegheny Township horse rescue on Monday afternoon to find two of their barns in flames.
“When we came back, the fire trucks were already here and it was engulfed,” said Musselman, who manages the LLM Holdings Trust, which owns the Markle Road farm known as Ladave Farms.
Markle Volunteer Fire Department Lt. Chuck Hibner said the fire was reported about 3 p.m. When crews arrived, flames from one barn were starting to spread to a neighboring structure that Musselman said dates to 1876.
“They were successful in knocking this one down,” Hibner said of the fire at the older barn, which showed only a few singe marks on the exterior green paint.
But the newer barn was destroyed. Musselman and McKendree said its contents included a hay elevator, six tractors, two horse carriages and about 2,000 bails of hay.
“It’s the winter hay for the horses,” Musselman said.
All nine horses had been turned out to pasture and were not in the barn during the fire. One horse that had been tied up near the barn was led out of harm’s way and placidly munched grass alongside the farm’s lengthy driveway, which was lined with fire trucks.
Since no fire hydrants are nearby, Hibner said, tanker trucks from many neighboring departments were called to assist.
Emergency vehicles lined Markle Road, which was closed between White Cloud and Grossheimer roads for several hours.
Hibner estimated 2,500 feet of hose was needed to pump water from a temporary reservoir along Markle Road to the hilltop farm that overlooks Northmoreland Park.
Hibner said the bulk of the fire was promptly extinguished, although two hours later crews continued to spray water and foam on the smoldering metal remains of equipment inside the barn.
Also ruined were two sport-utility vehicles parked beside the barn and tables and chairs Musselman said are stored inside the barn for annual reunions that can draw more than 100 people.
Musselman said the ruined barn was about 100 by 40 feet and was made up of two portions: a block structure built in the 1950s and a newer, metal pole barn that Musselman added in 2002 for his daughter’s wedding reception.
All that remained was one block wall and a few sheets of wilted metal.
Musselman said McKendree, who runs the horse rescue, had been in the barn about an hour before the fire and didn’t notice anything amiss. They ran errands near Kiski Area High School and returned home in less than an hour.
“I don’t know how something like that happens so fast,” Musselman said.
Hibner said it was too soon to tell how the fire started. He expected a state police fire marshal to investigate on Tuesday.
It has been a rough year for Musselman and the farm. He is in the middle of a court battle with Allegheny Township over whether he can continue to operate 1876 Bed and Breakfast from the farmhouse, which was not damaged by the fire.
The township’s zoning hearing board this year ruled he was violating the zoning ordinance by running a business in a residential zone. Musselman has appealed to Westmoreland County Court, arguing the guest house should be a grandfathered use because it has hosted paying guests for decades.
Musselman said he has insurance, but he isn’t certain how much of the fire damage will be covered. A damage estimate was not available.