Walterboro — Annie Filion experienced a farmer’s worst nightmare Sunday morning. She saw smoke coming from the barn.
Filion grabbed a water hose and ran inside, where a hundred 3-week-old turkeys were housed at Keegan-Filion Farm. She saw an 8-inch-wide hole burning in the floor and watered it down.
But through the hole, she could see the floor joists already were on fire.
In a matter of minutes, flames engulfed the old wood barn, built in the 1930s by her grandfather. All but eight of the turkeys perished in the blaze.
Filion and her husband, Marc, also lost turkey and hog feed in one of the barn’s wings, and farm tools stored in another.
On Monday, Filion felt shell-shocked. “I am devastated. We had a fire here last January, but it burned across the hay field, and we didn’t lose any animals.”
Sunday began calmly and routinely at the farm on Keegan Drive, one of the few organic and free-range producers of poultry, eggs, pork and beef in the Lowcountry. The farm supplies a number of upscale restaurants in the Charleston area and also does business at the Summerville Farmers Market.
Filion went outside at 8 a.m. to let the hens out for the day in the pasture. On her way back, she spotted the smoke and flew into action.
Inside the barn, she quickly realized the peril at hand. She was able to throw a few turkey chicks out the door, “but the smoke was really black and dark, and I heard things crackling in the ceiling.”
Filion ran outside to move a refrigerated truck and a farm truck that were parked next to the barn. She also called 911.
Then she ran to the house to tell her husband, only stopping long enough to throw open the door and yell, “Barn’s on fire!”
“I was frantic, shaking like a leaf on the trees,” Filion said.
Meanwhile, just as the firetrucks were coming down the drive, she realized the fire could reach the 100-gallon propane tank that was only 20 feet from the barn. Luckily, the firefighters got water to it before the flames came.
“As bad as it was, it could’ve been so much worse if that tank had exploded,” Filion said.
Barry McRoy, chief of Colleton County Fire-Rescue, said his department responded within seven minutes of receiving the call at 8:07 a.m. with nine firetrucks, an ambulance, 26 firefighters and two chiefs.
The firefighters, many of them volunteers from farms, knew what they were up against, he said.
The building was about 70 percent lost when they arrived. The fire already had burned underneath the floor and up the walls in spite of Filion’s efforts to quench it.
“She did quite a bit of stuff in just a few minutes,” McRoy said of Filion. “She kept her head on her shoulders.”
On Monday, Filion had a whole new set of worries.
She doesn’t know the total financial loss, only that the turkeys themselves cost $400. They were being grown for sausage and ground turkey when the farmers market reopens in the spring.
“Everything else is up in the air,” she said. “I just don’t even know yet.”
Her husband, who works full time off the farm, had to leave town for a business trip on Sunday. “We didn’t get a chance to talk much,” Filion said.
The couple is waiting to find out if their insurance will cover any of the loss. They have a homeowner’s policy and liability insurance on their products, but no other specific coverage for the farm.
They also are out of a turkey barn.
“We have a limited window of opportunity to be able to do our turkeys for next Thanksgiving,” Filion said. That’s because they have to place an order with the hatchery in January and would start receiving those turkeys — about 700 total — in March.
Filion is hopeful that the other poultry, eggs and meat sales to restaurants won’t be affected.
Chef-owner Fred Neuville of the Fat Hen restaurant on Johns Island, a longtime customer, was shocked by the news.
“That’s just not right. We’ve been using (Keegan-Filion) since early 2008. She’s not only a force, but they’re great people, down to earth. We just love them.”
Neuville said he thought the restaurant community would rally behind the farm.
“We need to support our local farmers. ... We’ll do whatever we need to do to support them. There will be help coming.”
Executive chef Frank Lee of Slightly North of Broad and Maverick Southern Kitchens said the news was distressing. “She’s been a huge part of moving forward with our local food,” Lee said, adding that both SNOB and High Cotton served their turkeys at Thanksgiving last month.
It was back to chores the day after the fire, but Filion said much shifting around on the farm must be figured out this winter. Fire teaches some hard lessons, she said.
The fire was sparked when the turkeys knocked a clamp-type brooding lamp onto wood shavings being used for bedding.
“I told Marc, I don’t want any clamp lamps, I want everything hard-wired. And don’t have your tools and feed and brooder barn all connected. Those are things you don’t think about until it’s too late.”