A barn containing more than 70,000 chickens was destroyed by fire in the early morning hours of Jan. 28.

The fire at the barn, located at 99 Back Searsport Road, was reported just after 2 a.m. Thursday morning, according to a dispatcher at the Waldo County Regional Communications Center.

Owner Merle Grass said he was first notified at about that same time by Seacoast Security, which monitors the barn and notifies him when there is an issue there — such as when the power goes out, and he has to go to the barn and restart the generators.

The call that came early Thursday morning informed Grass the power had gone out at the barn, and it was only while he was traveling to the barn and saw a glow in the sky that he realized there was a bigger problem.

Although he knew the glow in the sky meant there was a fire somewhere in the area, it was not until he got closer to the scene that Grass realized the fire was at his barn.

Grass, who owns Grass Farms and has owned the barn on the Back Searsport Road for the past 15 years, said the structure — which measured 500 feet long by 40 feet wide — was built in 1976. It had aluminum siding, and had 12 inches of shavings in the roof to serve as insulation.

There were three floors in the barn, bringing the total space to 60,000 square feet. Grass said when it burned, the barn contained 72,000 4-month-old chickens.

Belfast Fire Chief Jim Richards, when asked what firefighters did to battle the blaze, offered a succinct answer.

“We didn’t,” he said.

The barn was fully engulfed when firefighters arrived, Richards explained, and he said it would have been too much of a danger to have crews working near the building. There were also power lines overhead, which compounded the problem.

“There was nothing we could do,” Richards said. Later in the morning, firefighters dumped about 35,000 gallons of water on what remained of the large building. Richards said he expected crews to dump another 15,000 gallons of water Thursday afternoon.

Firefighters from Belfast were joined by crews from Searsport and Morrill, and Richards estimated there were at least 35 firefighters on scene. He said they had four tanker trucks and several engines at the scene, as well. None of the firefighters was injured.

Richards said it had been at least a few years since there had been a fire of this size and scope in Belfast. Damage was too extensive to try to determine a cause, the chief said, and for that reason he did not contact the fire marshal’s office. He did say, however, that he didn’t see anything suspicious.

Grass, who also owns two other chicken barns in the area (one on Route 3 in Belfast and the other on Route 137 in Waldo), said he had insurance on the barn that burned but did not yet know if he would rebuild.

“It’s still up in the air,” he said, when contacted Thursday afternoon. Grass said the chickens were owned by Maine Contract Farming, based in Turner, and that he is pretty sure the company had insurance on the birds.

Kevin Kratka, who lives in a house next to the barn, wrote a blog entry describing what he saw and heard early Thursday morning. Kratka said he heard a car pull into his driveway around 2 a.m., prompting him to wonder who was there at that early hour.

As he looked out the window, Kratka said the entire field next to his house and all the surrounding trees were glowing orange. As he realized there was a fire, he heard a loud knock on the front door followed by someone yelling “Your barn is on fire, sir!” That voice, it turned out, belonged to a deputy sheriff.

“He had seen the glow on the horizon from two towns away,” Kratka wrote, “and drove until he found the source.”

Panic then set in, Kratka said, as he worried about whether the fire would spread to the nearby woods or to the house itself. As he headed out the door, Kratka — who does freelance photography — grabbed his camera to document the fire.

Writing in the present tense, he described the scene in his blog:

“The sky is orange as high up as you can see. The entire area is orange — our house, the neighbor’s house, everything. Embers are floating gracefully up and over the trees and are being carried by a very light breeze.

“The firefighters arrive by the droves. Now, the stillness of the orange glow is punctuated by red strobe lights of the fire trucks. The eerie silence [is] now replaced with the sounds of diesel engines and fire radios and men yelling to grab the hoses and watch for power lines.”

Echoing what Richards said, Kratka reported that firefighters told him “there was no sense in risking injury to fire [personnel] when the barn was so far gone when they arrived.” Kratka said firefighters instead focused their efforts on making sure no other nearby structures caught fire. Later, he wrote:

“It’s 6:35 [a.m.]. The fire is still smoldering. The firefighters are still standing watch over what remains of the barn. The smoke — and the sun — are now rising together.”