Fire kills 15 miniature horses in western Pa.


SALEM, Ohio – Karen Francschini doesn’t remember much about the early morning of April 2, 2004.

Bits and pieces of memories fall together: A neighbor yelled, “Karen, wake up!” She bolted from sleep and was outside in less than 30 seconds.

Freezing rain soaked her nightgown and chilled her bare feet.

Flames shot into the sky, whisking away a barn, 1,000 bales of hay and straw and the ashes of one potbellied pig and herd of miniature horses.

Francschini’s Amish neighbor who first spotted the fire held her back so she wouldn’t run inside the burning structure to save her livelihood.

“I wanted my babies out,” she said of the 15 horses including pregnant mares, stallions and a 4-day-old filly she lost in the fire on her New Wilmington, Pa.-area farm.

The state fire marshal determined a heat lamp used for the pig sparked the blaze, according to Gary Wagner, assistant fire chief in New Wilmington.

Heartbroken. Friends and family on the scene of the Orchard Road fire prodded Francschini, asking the twice-stricken heart attack survivor if she was OK.

“They kept asking me how my heart was,” she said. “And all I kept saying was ‘broken.'”

The woman, who raised horses for nearly 30 years and concentrated on the miniatures since 1992, is still in shock over her losses.

“These were babies I had delivered here, and they were going to have babies now,” she said.

“All I remember is that the fire was horrible.”

Empty space. Francschini said once the hay and straw caught fire, the roof and loft collapsed and fell onto the horses.

Debris has been removed and the site of her 50-by-30 foot barn has been reduced to a concrete pad.

Though she had some insurance on the barn, it’s not nearly enough to rebuild the structure valued at $30,000-$40,000, she said.

She estimates her losses for the barn, horses and hay are at least $60,000.

Losses. But Francschini’s breeding farm isn’t history.

At least one of her animals broke from its stall during the fire and escaped the barn.

Nine horses, including four pregnant mares, now live in a lean-to erected alongside her garage-turned-foaling barn April 3.

Their home is only temporary until Francschini can rebuild.

Overwhelmed. Francschini can only describe herself as overwhelmed at the outpouring of support she’s found since the fire.

“If I ever thought there was no good left in this world, well, not now,” she said. “Let me tell you it is still here.”

Visitors continue to stop by to hug her, offer support, or lend a hand, she said.

Little things. An anonymous donor paid for the woman’s order of cattle panels, T-posts, wire cutters and electric fence wire at a nearby Agway store.

Others drop off horse blankets and other supplies.

“I’ve got hay stacked on my front porch and back porch. I’ll put it in my living room if I have to,” she said of her cramped storage space.

“But I’ve lost everything. We wanted to measure to replace sections of fence, but I don’t even have a tape measure anymore,” she said.

“All the things you accumulate over the years and take for granted are all gone,” she said, noting other losses are power tools, hardware, buckets, gates and more.

Too far gone. Gary Wagner said the fire was reported around 12:45 a.m., and firefighters were on the scene until after 5 a.m.

“It was your typical barn fire, with hay and straw. The animals were already out when we got there,” he said.

Firefighters from New Wilmington, Volant, Mercer’s East End and Pulaski responded.

(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at

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      Fund for Wee Horses

      c/o Sky Bank

      108 S. Market St.

      New Wilmington, PA 16142

      Karen Francschini




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