PENDLETON - Fire ripped through a barn at the Wildlife Animal Sanctuary and Horse Farm on Fiegle Road Tuesday night, killing dozens of animals that its owner had committed her life to rescuing.
Sandy Pfohl almost lost her own life as she tried to rescue the animals.
"She was in there trying to pull a peacock out by its feet, and [farmhand] Pete [Marko] literally had to pull her out," said Donna Boskat, vice president of the sanctuary's board.
About 60 animals were killed in the sanctuary's large pole barn at 5180 Fiegle Road. Damage is expected to total well beyond the group's limited insurance coverage.
Pfohl lost nearly half of the animals at the sanctuary, which raises funds for education and rescue services by providing ponies and horses for parties and petting zoos.
Boskat said both she, her husband and son, as well as Pfohl and Marko, were working Tuesday night, shucking corn and trying to put straw out for the animals when the fire started.
The fast-moving fire, which appeared to be accidental and possibly electrical, started on the second floor, Boskat said.
"We just ran to the barn trying to get the animals out. She lost almost 60 animals, total," Boskat said.
Wendelville firefighters extinguished the blaze.
Killed were a llama, alpaca, goats, lambs, doves, pigs, chickens, peacocks, baby wild turkeys, potbellied pigs and rabbits, Boskat said.
"This is her life. She's been doing this for many, many years," Boskat said of Pfohl.
Boskat said she and Pfohl went into the barn and tried to lead out as many of the animals as they could and were able to save some horses and ponies, a donkey and some potbellied pigs.
"I felt trapped in there," Boskat said of her efforts to save the animals from the blaze.
Boskat said after she got out of the barn, she realized Pfohl was still inside trying to pull animals to safety. Then, Marko entered the barn got Pfohl out.
"She was willing to risk her life for these animals. He came out with her, and we almost fell on the ground. We were just hugging each other in tears," Boskat said.
"We take in a lot of unwanted animals, and we also rescue wildlife. It's everything from A to Z. That's why the loss of these animals is so devastating," Boskat said.
She said they hope to continue plans for a petting zoo and also provide horses for the upcoming Celtic Festival this weekend in Olcott.
"We always collect money there, giving people ice cream cones filled with grain to feed the animals. That helps us that keeps us afloat," Boskat said.
She said this year, they will be looking for more.
"We really need help. We lost the whole barn. We are really in bad shape," Boskat said.