Mahan barn burned to make way for fire station

Blaze used as training ground

By Ben Moger-Williams

An old Williston dairy barn received new life Saturday as a training ground, even as it experienced a spectacular death as a predawn inferno.

The town-owned Mahan Farm barn on U.S. Route 2 was set ablaze by Williston firefighters early Saturday as part of an inter-departmental training exercise, and to make way for the future site of the Williston fire and rescue station.

But the loss of another dairy barn also signals a move farther away from the rural character of the town. Ginger Isham, president of the Williston Historical Society, moved to Williston 45 years ago. She can name at least 16 dairy farms that have been sold, destroyed or converted to another purpose since then, not including the Mahan Farm, which has not been active for many years.

Long-time resident Herb Goodrich said that is the trend in Williston.

“The land is too valuable to even farm,” Goodrich said. “With the money you can make farming you can’t afford to keep your land. That’s just about what it adds up to be. ”

Goodrich remembers Francis “Jack” Mahan Sr. as being a fireman and a good storyteller. The training fire would have given Mahan another good story to tell after a fire department meeting.

The demise of the rickety structure provided a rare, open-flame or “exposure” scenario, that local firefighters don’t often get to experience, Williston Fire Department training officer Capt. Jim Hendry said.

The department also invited three other fire departments to take part in the exercise. Firefighters from the Essex, South Burlington and Richmond fire departments came to receive training in indoor firefighting and “master stream” training, which is mostly aimed at protecting nearby structures with a large water gun.

“We are happy to share this training opportunity with other departments, prior to an actual incident, ” Hendry said.

The fire was started in the smaller part of the old barn, and Williston Fire Chief Ken Morton coordinated firefighters’ taking turns entering the structure with hoses and battling the blaze. After a short time, however, the structure was engulfed in flames, and the fire spread to the larger part of the barn that was originally used to house cattle and store hay.

After the larger barn was fully afire, efforts switched to protecting the newer, long red barn nearby, which was sold to Whitcomb Concrete Construction for $100, according to Public Works Director Neil Boyden.

Boyden said initial efforts to salvage the farmhouse on the property fell through, and the only part of the farm to be saved was the long red barn.

But Boyden said the town is attempting to salvage anything it can from the demolition of the site. He said the concrete from the floors and the silos, which were torn down last week, will be crushed and used as gravel in town roads.

“Wherever possible, we’re trying to recycle,” Boyden said.

Several people from the community came to observe the exercise, including Ginger Morton, wife of Chief Morton. She commented on the well-known fact that firefighters love live-fire exercises. “This is their idea of a good time,” she said. “There is not a firefighter here who is not happy to be here.”