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Fire destroys barn and store in Center Ossipee

Clothing and household items needed, fund established

AFTER HIS FAMILY was safely evacuated and sat waiting in their camper in the nearby church parking lot, Kevin Straughan watched firefighters try to save their home and took time to pray next to his vehicle that is used to provide food to needy residents of Ossipee and surrounding towns. (Mellisa Ferland photo) (click for larger version)
October 21, 2010
OSSIPEE — A Center Ossipee couple whose faith has guided them to serve God, the hungry in their community, and disadvantaged children were dealt a terrible blow Oct. 14 when their business was destroyed and their home was heavily damaged in an early morning fire.

The cause of the three-alarm fire is still under investigation and is as of press time undetermined by the NH Fire Marshal's Office though it is clear it started in the barn area.

According to homeowner, Kevin Straughan, he and his wife Janna were in the front family room having coffee. A neighbor who walks past the Straughan home to the First Congregational Church every morning to catch a ride to work walked past and noticed embers from the rear of the barn but dismissed it, thinking the Straughans had had a campfire the night before. In the meantime, Kevin said he had gone into his kitchen for something and noticed an odd smell but wasn't thinking that he was smelling fire. When the man walked back past the Straughans' house to head back to his own house because his ride changed plans and would be picking him up there, he saw flames and alerted the Straughans by banging on their door. Kevin said he ran out to the barn to try to free the goats kept there. One side door was open and some goats escaped but when he opened the other side and tried to shoo those goats out, they were scared and wouldn't move. In total, 14 goats, 15 sheep, 70 chicks, a bull calf, the family cat and 50 laying hens perished in the fire.

Kevin said he then went to his house, which was not yet on fire, to get his wife, children, and dogs to safety. He returned to the house to try and save the family cat but firefighters told him to evacuate.

"I am thankful we were awake and that we are early risers and we weren't woken up by flames," said Kevin.

Janna and the couple's five children, including the couple's two biological children and three foster children waited in the family camper in the church parking lot as firefighters worked for seven hours to put out the stubborn blaze. The effort brought in dozens of fire fighters from local departments and as far away as Conway, Sandwich and Wakefield.

The Straughan's business, Agape Homestead Farm, and all the related farm equipment and supplies were destroyed in the blaze. According to Kevin, the items lost are not easily replaced and include three freezers and a $30,000 pasteurization machine. The couple, members of NH Cheesemakers Guild, are known for supplying both retail and wholesale goat cheese, eggs and organic poultry. But they are likely best known in their community for starting the Agape Ministries Food Pantry, first running it from their home in 2000 and continuing to operate it and the thrift store at Ossipee Valley Bible Church on Route 16 in West Ossipee.

Their six-bedroom home, which sits on nearly two acres and was built in 1820 was partially damaged by heavy fire, and there is smoke and water damage throughout. It is unclear whether the home will be saved. The family's food cache for the winter was also destroyed as Janna had just completed all of her canning for the winter and at least one freezer was full of meat to feed their family.

The family initially was staying in the camper but has moved to a mobile home on Elm Street that was graciously offered to them free of charge one of many housing options offered since the fire. "We live in a great area despite its difficulties," said Kevin of the outpouring of support his family has received this week. The family's farm animals are currently being stabled at a neighbor's property and the Straughans, in time, hope to find a location where they can live, raise their animals, and operate their business again.

Fire crews were called to the scene at 6:35 a.m. on a report of a barn fire. Most crews cleared around 2 p.m., with Center Ossipee firefighters remaining until 5:30 p.m. to quell any hot spots and assist the homeowners. Stanley Eldridge provided an excavator to help turn over the burned remnants of the fallen barn and move a horse trailer to help firefighters get the fire out. There were no injuries reported. Center Ossipee's Engine 3 was taken out of service and to the garage due to pump damage possibly caused by overheating.

Volunteers and local businesses provided food and drinks to the family and firefighters throughout the ordeal.

The family is seeking donations of clothing and items for the children. Donations can be dropped off at the thrift store in the basement of Ossipee Valley Bible Church on Route 16 in West Ossipee and should be clearly marked "Straughan Family" if they are intended to specifically go to the family. Store hours are Monday, Wednesday, Friday 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

According to Janna, the specific need is warm clothing, including coats, hats, mittens and the sizes in the following sizes: 12-year-old girl size eight women's petite, nine-year-old boy size 10 slim, four-year-old girl size five, and two-year-old boy size 24 months. She also said men's jeans (size 42x32) are needed.

The family is in the process of creating a list of household items, farm equipment and other needs.

A fund has also been set up to accept donations at Citizens Bank. Checks made payable to "Straughan Family Fire Fund" can be taken to the Ossipee branch or mailed to Citizens Bank, Attn Bank by Mail, PO Box 42006, Providence, RI 02940-2006.

Littleton Chmber
Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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