Family grieves after fire that killed 6 horses

ARLINGTON — He wishes he could forget the sound of the horses screaming.

Jason Roberts, 41, awoke in the middle of the night Tuesday to an orange glow outside his bedroom window. He, his wife and her parents run the Dutch Mills Farm on Kunde Road in the Bryant area. The 25-acre property borders the Pilchuck Tree Farm.

By 2 a.m. Tuesday, the barn and the horse arena were engulfed in flames, Roberts said.

He ran barefoot down the gravel road while his wife called 911. Ten horses were trapped.

“I tried to run inside the barn, but there was this impenetrable wall of heat that was so thick I couldn’t get through it,” he said.

Roberts ran to another entrance, but the heat had warped the door closed. He pushed and kicked until he got in, he said.

He and other family members were able to rescue some of the horses before the heat became unbearable, stinging their eyes and singing their hair. He had to stop fighting the flames, thinking of his 17-month-old daughter, Anna-Lynn.

“I kept telling them ‘I’m sorry. I can’t save you,'” he said.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation by the Snohomish County Fire Marshal’s Office.

The family has hardly slept since, Roberts said. He keeps thinking about the fire and the screams.

His wife, Helga Roberts, spent much of Wednesday at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Her father, Henry Van Doorn, was being treated for burns he suffered while trying to save the horses. She also suffered burns to her face and scalp.

Five horses died in the fire, including Felice, who belonged to the Robertses. A sixth horse, Cody, also theirs, was rescued from the barn but had to be put down because of his burns. They called the other horses’ owners from the hospital.

Only one horse, Monty, was back in the pasture Wednesday afternoon. The other three horses were recuperating at Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital in Snohomish.

All three were in stable condition, said Charlotte Graeber, a hospital spokeswoman. They all have various degrees of burns. At least one was expected to go home soon.

The fire left the horse arena a mess of smoking hay, charred poles and metal debris. The barn’s roof was frozen in mid-collapse, ringed by yellow tape.

The couple has owned the farm about seven years, Roberts said. He teaches music lessons in Burlington and Everett, and his wife works with the horses. Her parents live up the hill.

The family built the barn just four years ago, he said. Most recently, they were painting it with a deep chestnut stain. They had expected to finish this week.

Instead, once the flames and smoke subside, they’ll hire a company to clean up. They plan to bury the horses in a back pasture.

The horses’ owners wanted that, Roberts said.

“They had such good lives here,” he said. “Those horses were spoiled rotten.”

On Wednesday, people already were stopping by to bring hay, flowers and pie. The farm’s Facebook page filled with messages of support from people in the equestrian community.

The Roberts family is meeting neighbors they didn’t even know they had, Jason Roberts said.

The family hopes to rebuild within a year.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com

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