Generators and lawnmowers, at least $2,000 worth of seeds, seven chickens and enough feed for an entire farm.
Those are just some of the things that come to mind when 54-year-old Debbie Lattin recounts what she and her family lost in a Jan. 12 fire that abruptly burned down an old utility barn at Lattin’s Country Cider Mill and Farm.
“Everything to run the farm was in the barn,” said Debbie Lattin, the daughter of the owners and a farm manager. “It was our storage building right now. We’d use it as a petting area during our festivals, but right now, it was mainly storage.”
The 22-acre farm and business, located off Rich Road in rural Thurston County, is known as a mom-and-pop shop where Thurston County residents and those from surrounding counties can pick up nearly anything, from the farm’s award-winning apple cider to their donuts or even a peacock feather.
The fire marks a challenging time in the agritourism business’ roughly 60-year existence. While the storefront has stayed open this entire time, the farm and its owners remain impacted by the loss of so many necessities. A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help recoup the lost items that won’t be covered by insurance, and so far it has raised $3,180 of its $50,000 goal.
The cause of the fire has not been determined, the Lattins say. The barn had electrical wiring, though investigators have ruled out that as a cause.
A large storm rolled through the region the night of the fire, producing high winds and modest rainfall that likely fanned the blaze. The Lattins, expecting they’d need to pick up a few branches or trees the next day, never thought a blaze would roll through a building.
“The wind was so powerful, everyone lost their power,” said owner Carolyn Lattin, 88, who has produced cider on the property for about 45 years. “(Many) people were without power, and it didn't take too long for the storm to take the barn along with it.”
The barn was also unique in that it was constructed with lumber harvested from the property. Though the family plans on constructing a similar building in its place, it has yet to be determined if it will be as unique as the more than 70-year-old former structure.
The family is also still taking inventory of their losses. The list, which is nearly five-pages long, Carolyn Lattin said, keeps growing as they recall what was in the barn.
“It’s going to be over a year before we can begin permitting and the rebuilding process … It’s kind of a scramble to find a place for things to go,” she said.
After a difficult 2020, the family and its roughly 25 employees were really looking forward to a calmer, quieter and easier year. The expectations, at least so far, have been the opposite of that.
It Started With a Red Glow
The Lattins, with the help of their employees, finally cleared out what was left of their barn last Friday. Standing on the vacant land, Debbie Lattin clearly recalled that night.
It was around 10 p.m. and she was just about to retire for the evening. But when Debbie Lattin stepped outside of her nearby house, she saw a tiny, red glow out where the farm was.
“Within 30 seconds of stepping out, I saw a big pillow of smoke go up,” she said. “And by the time I got up here, there was nothing I could do. It was gone.”
They began clearing the area around the flames. Firefighters arrived soon after.
Jessy Platter, an outside manager and farm hand, said her phone started ringing with people saying that a fire was reported at the Lattins. She threw on her boots and was quickly out the door.
After arriving, and getting past the firefighters, Platter said she started rounding up animals and made sure they didn’t run off scared into a nearby field.
Platter, who works closely with Debbie Lattin, knows all too well how much was lost that night.
“There’s not really good words for that. We have a lot invested into this barn. Everything we needed to do our jobs was in here,” Platter said.
A flock of seven chickens in a nearby greenhouse were the only living casualties. Work will also need to be done on the nearby buildings and sheds, too.
“All of the crew were pretty upset,” Debbie Lattin said, noting that the loss still weighs heavy on everyone’s minds.
Debbie Lattin, who works in the bakery every day, said it was painful to look out from a nearby window out at the carnage in the days following the fire. In addition to the financial loss, the barn also held sentimental value to many.
“It’s been a privilege to grow up around here,” she said.
Since Jan. 12, the community has given an overwhelming response to the family and Lattins Country Cider Mill and Farm.
“We have such great customers. They’re such amazing people … They give us a lot of comfort,” Debbie Lattin said.
One regular customer even dropped them off feed and hay in the days following the incident to keep their variety of goats, chickens, peacocks and quail fed.
Staff have also displayed a donation jar at the storefront where people can help contribute to the farm’s recovery. Customers can also purchase a $10 paper apple that they’ll write their names down on. That apple will be displayed within the store, and the names will eventually be etched into a plaque that will hang outside the new barn once it’s constructed.
As the number of days since the incident tally higher, work seems to be more focused on the day-to-day operations of the farm and its storefront. With the summer and fall months being the busiest time for Lattin’s County Cider Mill and Farm, plans are being set to host families and agritourists for fun activities.
The focus, now that the ashes have been swept away, seems most prominently to be toward the future.
“COVID or fire, we’ll find a way to be here and make it all work,” Debbie Lattin said. “We’ll figure it out.”