BY MATT TOBIN
PROSPECT — A fire destroyed a barn and shed Feb. 3 at 9 Spring Road, killing about 60 animals that nonprofit Kelly’s Kids had used as therapy for children and seniors.
The cause of the 11:20 p.m. fire is under investigaation by the local fire marshal’s office, but heat lamps may have started the blaze, said Kelly Cronin, owner of the animals and founder of Kelly’s Kids, a nonprofit mental health organization that uses animals for therapeutic purposes.
Cronin said Saturday she put the animals into the barn Friday evening to shelter them from the frigid cold. The animals included goats, sheep, pigs, alpacas, ducks, geese, rabbits and mini donkeys.
Cronin’s family has owned the property for more than 100 years. She grew up in the house on the farm and has had animals since she was a child.
“The animals are her life,” said Brady Gunning, Cronin’s daughter.
Upon noticing the fire, Cronin and her son, Tim, attempted to free the animals by kicking in the door, but the building was engulfed in flames, she said. Cronin had only closed the door because of the below-zero cold, she said.
Firefighters from Prospect, Bethany and Cheshire responded. No one was injured.
The two-story barn, built in 1982, was destroyed. Only one The two-story barn, built in 1982, was destroyed. Only one wall of a shed in front of the barn remained Saturday. Many pieces of farm equipment also were destroyed.
Flames rose higher than the trees, the heat blistering the exterior walls of her home, Cronin said.
“Flames were shooting everywhere,” she said.
Cronin said she and her neighbors are lucky the wind blew the flames away from nearby homes.
She said she thought of the animals as “her therapy.”
Cronin has been involved in social work for 40 years and has used animals as a part of her therapy programs, helping teach kids about care, compassion, behavior and relationships, she said. The animals also traveled to various functions and events for children since 1999. Some of the family’s animals were safe in another location on the property.
Cronin said she plans to acquire more animals and continue helping children and seniors.
She said telling her young clients about the fire Monday will be especially difficult.
As the family gazed at the smoldering remains Saturday, brown icicles dripping off the remaining wall of the shed, they discussed rebuilding and continuing their work.
Cronin said she’d like to have a barn raising when the time is right.
“We’re going to pick up and start over,” she said. “We affect so many people’s lives with these animals. They’ve brought happiness to so many. We’re going to rebuild. There’s no question about it.”
Mayor Robert J. Chatfield said, “She’ll pull through. She’s strong-willed and I’m sure she’s a lady of her word. As more people learn about this, more people will be ready to stand up and help.”
A GoFundMe page has been organized by Ashley Kiefer to support the Cronin family and Kelly’s Kids.
As of 6 p.m. Saturday, nearly 300 donors had raised more than $31,000 toward a $75,000 goal.
To donate, visit gofundme.com/f/kellys-kids-barn-fire.