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Family dairy barn burns to ground in Laird Township (2 photos)

Norland Farms fire claims four cows; GoFundMe campaign launched to help family rebuild

A massive fire that claimed a dairy barn in Laird Township last week has left the Connolly family - who has kept the farm in their family for four decades - to wonder what’s next for Norland Farms.  

Patrick Connolly, who purchased the majority of the farm from his parents just three years ago, says that he woke up to an orange glow in his bedroom in the early morning hours of April 25.

The main barn, home to more than 70 dairy cattle, was on fire.

Connolly immediately went out to the barn to rescue the cows before volunteer firefighters from Echo Bay Fire Department and Tarbutt Township Fire Department arrived on the scene.

“About the time I got the cows out, the fire department got here and started putting it out, then all the local dairy farmers showed up trying to help us round the cows up,” Connolly said.

“They [firefighters] fought it until 3 p.m. the next day - they stuck around keeping it all contained,” he continued. “All the dairy farmers showed up the next day too [with] cattle trailers, and hauled all the cattle to the island [St. Joseph Island] so they could get milked in the morning.”

Four cows died as a result of the fire, with a handful of others suffering the effects of smoke inhalation.

Two dairy cows refused to leave the barn as the fire burned, but Connolly credits the Echo Bay Fire Department for keeping them safe.

“They kept water on them, and made sure the roof didn’t fall in on them,” he said. “They’re not breathing the best, I’ll say that - but they’re alive.”

Most of the cattle displaced by the blaze have since been relocated to another farm on St. Joseph Island so that Connolly can continue milking them.

He’s also without running water on the farm due to the fire.

“The water to the house, and all the power to all the other barns ran through the main barn, so right now we don’t have running water in the house, or in any of the other barns,” “Just making due right now until we can dig some lines and dig some new power lines to the well, and get a new meter put in to get the power running again.”

Connolly says the main barn is now a total loss, with not much left after the roof caved in.

There’s a couple walls, a tank and a few metal gates that remain following the fire - and some rubble where the barn once stood - but not much that is actually salvageable.

“It’s been hard on everyone,” Connolly said of his family, who all live within relatively close proximity to Norland Farms. “I have four sisters, and it’s where we grew up. We all spent our days in the [hay] mow, playing with the cows and everything.”

“The barn’s like your second home - well, your first. You spend more time in the barn than you do in your house some days.”

Connolly is grateful for all of the help he has received since the fire broke out.

“The community’s been great,” he told SooToday. “Lots of people brought food for us, there were people here the next day moving the cattle, helping us set up all the water to get the water to all the other barns because we still have cattle in the other barns - they need water.”

Right now, the Connolly family is cleaning up what they can before figuring out their next steps.  

“Hopefully we can [rebuild] and keep milking, but if it doesn’t work that way, start making new plans,” said Connolly. “I don’t know, there’s a lot. Right now we’re just focusing on cleaning it up, and then we’ll sit down with the family and start making some hard decisions on what the future holds for the farm.”

The investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing.  

A GoFundMe campaign was launched on behalf of the Connolly family Sunday, which has raised just over $3,700 of its $10,000 goal as of late Monday afternoon.

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James Hopkin

About the Author: James Hopkin

James Hopkin is a reporter for SooToday in Sault Ste. Marie
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