When an early-morning fire at the Little Full Cry Farm in Clifton killed 10 horses on Wednesday, Oct. 26, an era of equestrian tradition ended.
The farm had served as a boarding stable and equestrian teaching school owned and operated by Jane Marshall Dillon for several decades until her death in 2000. Her son, Randy Dillon, currently owns the property but declined to comment on the loss.
Fairfax County Fire and Rescue units from Clifton, Fairview, Fair Oaks, Gunston, Centreville and West Centreville were called out to fight the fire on Oct. 26, at around 2:40 a.m. The fire burned the 40 foot by 60 foot barn at the farm, located at 6429 Clifton Road near the intersection with Popes Head Road. The farm had two barns, which served as boarding stables. The five horses in the second barn were uninjured. Damages to the barn were estimated at $150,000, said Lt. Jeff Trice of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department's public information office. An investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing.
Neighbor Dennis Hogge said his home, adjacent to the farm, was "filled with smoke" when he awoke Wednesday morning. He said the fire was still smoldering at 8:30 a.m.
"Smoke was pouring out of where the barn used to be," Hogge said. "They were using a backhoe to tear down the walls and remove the bodies of the dead horses."
IN THE WEEK since the fire, customers and horse owners have been coming to The Clifton Saddlery, looking for comfort, answers and ways to help.
"People want to know what happened but are afraid to ask too many questions," said Sue Clairmonte, owner of The Clifton Saddlery. "Everyone's been very polite and gentle when they ask. I've been getting expressions of condolences and I didn't even have a horse there."
The equestrian community has established the Little Full Cry Memorial Fund, Clairmonte said, which is collecting money to possibly memorialize the horses who died in the fire.
"So many people wanted to help in some way but just didn't know what to do," she said of the fund.
Customers have been taking comfort in hearing that the horses who were killed were found covered in hay, with their blankets still on, by the firemen who responded. "The horses were not destroyed at all, it just looked like they had fallen over in their sleep," Clairmonte said. "That's been our biggest comfort, the only good thing that could've come of this."
THE AREA of Clifton where Little Full Cry Farm is located does not have fire hydrants, Trice said, but that did not have an impact on the firefighters' efforts. "Clifton has a tanker that carries 750 gallons of water and that's followed by another truck that carries 2,000 gallons of water. Water was not an issue," Trice said.
Following a fire in a neighbor's home in August, Fairfax Station resident John Bolish said he began to wonder about the water supplies used to fight fires in areas without hydrants.
"All of us who live here realize there's no hydrants, but there's plenty of water around," said Bolish. Several ponds and swimming pools are in his neighborhood, but were not used when a home at 7705 Kelly Ann Court in Fairfax Station burned to the foundation in August.
"That was a pretty big house and it burned so fast," Bolish said. "I have to wonder if the ponds are identified as sources of water in case a fire breaks out and water is needed."
In the 1980s, Clifton was down-zoned to limit development in order to protect the Occoquan watershed, Bolish said. As a result, many homes are not on Fairfax Water service and do not have hydrants nearby. "The development on the west side of Route 123 has been slowed, all the development's been on the east side and they have hydrants," he said.
Residents of that area did not fight the rezoning, he said, because they wanted to preserve their five-acre lot properties.
"I'm not concerned about my home, I just want to make sure the firemen know where sources of water are located," Bolish said.
Being able to find ponds is part of regular training for firemen in areas not served by Fairfax Water, said Renee Stilwell, a public information officer with the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department.
"Each station knows where ponds are located within their district — it's something each first responder has to know," Stilwell said.
In the event of a large fire, tankers from several fire stations will relay water from the nearest hydrant to provide a supply of water to extinguish the flames, she said. "Fire stations may have one more piece of equipment to shuttle, but it doesn't have a negative impact on their ability to fight fires," Stilwell said.
Trice agreed, adding that although ponds can be used to fight fires, they are not the "number one source of water."
"In case we need to use a pond or other alternate water source, we learn how to draw water out of the pond by hooking up a hard suction hose to the front intake of a tanker truck and use a pond as a hydrant," Trice said. "We have enough units dispatched to fires in non-hydrant areas to have a good supply of water" without having to use alternate sources, he said.