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Still-smoking, charred remnants of a barn are the horrible aftermath of a blaze in which dozens of prize dairy goats died Wednesday morning, their terrified bleating echoing through the darkness when the structure went up in flames.
“It was so pitiful. You should have seen them. It was a nightmare, just a nightmare,” said Joann Shelburne in a trembling voice as she looked out at the ruins where half of her prize-winning Alpine dairy goats perished in the predawn hours.
She said 25 goats died, and five more had to be put down.
“But this one, she got out, she jumped clean out of there,” said her husband, Howard Shelburne as he patted a small goat held by his neighbor, Carolyn Travis. “I don’t see how she done that; she’s only just two weeks old. We haven’t named her yet, but she’s got a name now – I’m going to call her Survivor.”
Shelburne said Survivor had to jump nearly 3 feet to get out of her pen in the barn. He and his wife were worried that the baby wouldn’t be able to eat, because along with other burns, she had a badly burned tongue.
Joann Shelburne said that as bad as the situation was, it could have been much worse if not for the family’s good friend and neighbor.
Sonny White, who lives near the Shelburnes on Fisherville Road, was on his way to work at F.B. Purnell Sausage Co. when he saw flames coming out of the barn.
“He woke us up; he was beating on the door, and hollering, ‘Your barn’s on fire!’” Joann Shelburne said.
White said when he saw the flames from the road, he called 911 and then pulled into the driveway.
“I ran up and started pounding on the door, screaming, ‘Shelburne, Shelburne, you’re barn’s on fire,’” he said. “I could hear the fire crackling, and sparks were falling on my clothes, my hair. And then I heard a woman start screaming inside the house.”
Shelburne said White wasn’t the only hero that morning, adding that two firefighters carried two of the goats to safety.
Simpsonville Fire Chief Ronnie Sowder said he did not know who they were, but that firefighters from his department worked the fire, with the Eastwood Fire Department providing mutual aid.
He said the barn was fully engulfed in flames when crews arrived. He did not know the cause of the fire, which broke out shortly before 4 a.m., but Joann Shelburne said it was probably a heat lamp in the barn that they put there to keep the baby kids warm on the unseasonably cold March morning.
“You know,” she said with sorrow in her voice as she gazed out at the smoking rubble. ”They were my babies. You just don’t know what I felt like when I looked out here and saw them.”
Shelburne said one thing made her and her family feel better, though.
“You just don’t realize how many good friends and neighbors you have until something like this happens,” she said. “We had so many people over here this morning, everybody came over to do what they could to help, and a lot of them brought food. We are just so grateful to everybody.”
Travis patted Shelburne’s arm as she talked about how most of the goats that died were her prize-winners, earning nearly 70 ribbons at last year’s Kentucky State Fair.
The Shelburnes began showing goats a few years after moving to Shelby County 45 years ago. They have raised several kinds of milk goats, such as Nubians, Saanen and Toggenburgs, but now their herd consists strictly of Alpine dairy goats.
Joann Shelburne was active as a 4-H leader for many years, and their children, Troy and Melissa, showed goats as well, even traveling to goat shows in other states.
Shelburne said she loves her goats so much, she won’t let this tragedy stop her from showing, but she will have to regroup.
“It’s just so good to know that you’re not alone,” she said, glancing around at her friends, some of them sitting with Howard, some helping in the house.
“It really means a lot.”
White said he went to the Shelburne’s home when he got off work to see how they were doing.
“She [Joann] came up to me and said, ‘I’ve got to give you a hug; you probably saved our house,’ and I got kind of choked up,” he said. “I just thank the Lord I was able to help.”