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(NECN: Ally Donnelly, Bedford, NH) - It was a jogger who first spotted the smoke coming out of the barn at Perry Hill Farm just before 8:30 Thursday morning. Minutes later, the 10,000-square-foot structure was gone.
"As barns go, just an open vessel and it goes from one end to the other end," said Bedford, N.H. Fire Chief Scott Wiggin.
The mother and daughter who own the riding stables, Harriet and Elizabeth Fink, tried desperately with neighbors to save the animals inside, but couldn't get to 14 horses and ponies.
"They're just in shock right now. They're just kinda numb," said Donna Harnsberger. "They're in survival mode and I think it's just unbelievable."
Judith Maclellan's granddaughters took riding lessons here and says the girls often stayed late to brush and water the horses.
"You don't want anyone's life to end in sadness or panic," she said. "And they had to have been panicked."
One father told us many of the horses were rescues and his daughter used them as therapy to get through a tough personal situation.
"This place gave her an incredible sense of strength to get out of it," he said.
The Finks were able to save eight ponies, two goats and a pig. Friends and strangers have offered to care for them. Harnsberger is helping with a young stallion named Puffy.
"There's gonna be a lot of questions and the kids aren't gonna understand," she said. "But now comes the healing. Let them be around the animals, they ones that are left and we'll get through it."
Chief Wiggin tells us as many as 50 firefighters from 10 communities worked to knock down the fire. The fire marshal is investigating the cause, but officials do not believe it is suspicious.
They will return to continue their work Friday and to find the best way to clean up and humanely remove the horses' bodies.