More than 70 animals killed in Richland County barn fire

SPRINGFIELD TOWNSHIP, Ohio-- Don Varvel of Richland County says he was awakened by his wife after she saw an orange glow through their living room blinds shortly after 4am Wednesday.

He says he immediately rushed to the picturesque 1937 barn on his property to try and rescue some of the nearly 80 animals they kept in the barn but the flames were already approaching the roof of the 45-foot tall structure.

The barn was his workshop and he was storing farm and lawn equipment inside but he says his priority was trying to get to some of the animals, all of which he thought of as pets.

"We had a little over 65 hens and roosters about ten rabbits, five of those were babies that were just hatched last week. My granddaughters hadn't got a chance to see them yet. We had a couple of ducks and four cats," said Varvel.

Firefighters from Springfield Township were quick to arrive and called for assistance from as many as a half-dozen other area departments.

"By the time somebody notices it, especially at 4:30 in the morning its probably had a good head start. Plenty of things to burn hay, straw old wood construction they burn rather well and fast," said Fire Chief Ronald Henry.

Henry says it is unlikely any of the animals could have escaped the blaze that leveled the barn.

"Unfortunately, unless some of the cats were able to get out which is quite possible, some of the small livestock poultry chickens and ducks and so forth I'm sure they were all taken by the fire," said Henry.

Varvel says afterward he walked the property calling out to some of the animals by name, hoping some of them were able to get out but there was no sign of any of them.

"They are my babies they were all my pets even all the hens followed me around. The grandkids were involved with feeding them and petting them. They were all friendly animals so they enjoyed coming to our farm," said Varvel.

Family photos shared with Fox 8 News show his grandchildren playing with the bunnies, chickens and the cats.

"I never would kill any of my animals. I just couldn't do it. They were pets and I would give them away to kids at 4H some of them that were just starting out so they could live their lives out until they got older and died," said Varvel.

Varvel credits the quick work of firefighters for preventing embers from the barn reaching his home and that of his father-in-law nearby.

Firefighters say a low hanging fog was the biggest challenge to their efforts Tuesday morning as they focused on containing the fire.

Henry says because of the extensive damage a cause might never be determined.

"I'm just thankful that no one else was hurt we are going to miss our animals but...I'm just thankful," said Varvel.

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