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Tuesday, October 3, 2023
Oct. 3, 2023

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Woodland couple rebuilding after fire

April blaze destroyed storage barn, killing 11 animals inside pavilion and damaging business equipment

By , Columbian Staff Writer
11 Photos
Jenny Stanton-Johnson, left, and her wife, Muriel Stanton-Johnson, stand where pig pens were in their storage barn and animal pavilion at Adeline Farms in Woodland. An April 27 fire that killed 11 animals destroyed it and hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment.
Jenny Stanton-Johnson, left, and her wife, Muriel Stanton-Johnson, stand where pig pens were in their storage barn and animal pavilion at Adeline Farms in Woodland. An April 27 fire that killed 11 animals destroyed it and hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment. (Samuel Wilson for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

WOODLAND — Jenny Stanton-Johnson watched the fire dance around the sky while crackling sounds echoed through her 16-acre Woodland property, but all she could focus on was the smell of roasting pig.

“It was just heinous,” said Stanton-Johnson, 42.

The firefighters had already left, telling her there was nothing they could at that point and they needed to let the fire burn, and so Stanton-Johnson watched the overnight destruction of her storage barn. Inside were tools, family heirlooms, chairs used for weddings held at the farm and Holly, a mama pig, and her seven piglets. The piglets were a day away from being 2 weeks old, when they would move from the barn to upper pasture, where they were going to live and graze.

That was during the early hours of April 27, and the fire burned throughout the night and well into afternoon, all while Stanton-Johnson and her wife, Muriel Stanton-Johnson, worried about how much suffering their animals went through. In addition to Holly and her piglets, the barn’s animal pavilion was home to three goats: Hercules, Maxwell and Sherlock.

Once the fire was put out, Jenny and Muriel took some solace in the fact that all animals were still in their beds, so they assume the animals died in their sleep from smoke inhalation.

In the fire, the two business owners lost an estimated hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment, including about 165 resin wedding chairs, tools for farm management, original lumber used to build the barn in 1919, a golf cart, a camper trailer and a riding lawn mower.

You Can Help

• To donate money to Jenny and Muriel Stanton-Johnson’s rebuild fund, you can do so at www.gofundme.com/28qc8yh8, where you can also see a list of items they lost in the fire. For more info about the farm and to reach out to them, go to www.adelinefarms.com or www.facebook.com/adelinefarms

The couple live in a house on the farm, where they plan on retiring. They rent out the carriage house to vacationing visitors and host weddings at the farm. They bought the property in 2013 and hosted seven weddings last year, including their own.

This year, they have 14 weddings scheduled, with the first two taking place the week of June 20.

Before wedding season starts, they need to purchase a new transformer, get electric and water back to the barn, clean up the debris and landscape “so it doesn’t look like a scar,” said Muriel Stanton-Johnson, 47.

As of May 9, most of the debris was still on their property, with broken tools, charred lumber and mangled metal siding where the storage barn once stood. A new barn will stand there someday, both said, but it will require a lot of work and a lot of money. They were told the foundation was too damaged to re-use, so they’ll have to build from there up to get a new barn in place.

The hauling away of the damaged items started May 9, when a tow truck came to take Jenny Stanton-Johnson’s 2007 Chevrolet Silverado, a truck she bought new that same year. Before moving to the Adeline Farm property, she spent 25-plus years working in construction, and she had a custom canopy and rack installed to fit all her tools.

On May 9, the truck was unrecognizable. All the tires, lights and windows were blown out, along with the door handles and license plates. The truck’s shiny gray exterior was chipped, with swirls of blackened burn marks and rust orange all over.

As the two watched the tow truck operator load up the Chevy, they remained mostly quiet, only breaking the silence to sniffle and wipe away tears.

“It’s like a burial,” Muriel Stanton-Johnson said. “That truck saved our life.”

The couple doesn’t know how the fire started, or when.

They awoke around 1 a.m. April 27 to the sound of Jenny’s truck exploding. When they looked outside, they saw the entire storage barn engulfed in flames.

The explosion knocked out their phone line, and on their secluded property they don’t get cell service, so Muriel Stanton-Johnson hopped in her car and raced to call the fire department.

“I was going 40, but it felt like I was driving 100,” she said.

Firefighters reached the property about six minutes after her call. By that time, the nearby fence and historic barn, the one that backdrops all weddings at the farm, were smoking. The firefighters contained the blaze to just the storage barn, but left around 4 a.m.

They returned later in the morning to get to work on putting out the fire.

It took some time, and as of 3 p.m. that day, items inside the barn were still burning, such as the wedding chairs. An excavator lifted them outside the barn so firefighters could put out the individual fires.

The excavator operator also dug a grave site for the couple’s animals.

The couple said they’re still talking to their insurance agency to figure out what can be done to help them out. In the meantime, the couple’s daughter set up a GoFundMe page to raise some money for them. The campaign has a $300,000 goal, and a little more than $8,000 was donated by Friday, about two weeks after the account was created. The page — www.gofundme.com/28qc8yh8 — also asks for donations of items lost in the fire, including gardening and construction tools, event chairs and tables, lumber, a golf cart and commercial grill.

The couple are going to host a fundraiser at the farm sometime in June. There will be live music and silent auctions, and if anyone wants to donate one of the items listed on the GoFundMe page, Muriel Stanton-Johnson said that day would be the day to bring it.

In the days after the fire, they started to receive cards from neighbors and people they never met, people who knew the goats and Holly from the far end of the farm, where the animals walked around near the fence.

“We didn’t even know, but they had their whole own community of people who cared about them,” Muriel Stanton-Johnson said.

Now that some time has passed since the fire, the couple said they are confident they will bounce back from the fire. They’re resourceful and love to salvage old things. Jenny Stanton-Johnson called them “ballers on a budget.”

Beyond themselves, Muriel Stanton-Johnson said they know they can count on the local community to help. The morning after the fire, they received muffins from a neighbor, and the owner of nearby America’s Family Diner brought them food. They’ve already received calls and emails from friends and residents asking how they can help. Both couples from the week of June 20 weddings reached out and want to help rebuild.

“We’re here. The iconic pieces are here,” Muriel Stanton-Johnson said. “We have a great community. They all loved what we were doing, so we’re going to be fine.”

Columbian Staff Writer