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Fire damages Westminster Livestock Auction

A fire marshal takes a detection dog inside the Westminster Livestock Auction building Wednesday during the investigation into a Tuesday night fire at the site.
A fire marshal takes a detection dog inside the Westminster Livestock Auction building Wednesday during the investigation into a Tuesday night fire at the site. (KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

The owner of the Westminster Livestock Auction building said he is unsure when or if there will be another auction after a fire ripped through the building early Wednesday morning.

The fire caused about $200,000 in damage to the structure and destroyed $100,000 worth of its contents, according to a news release from the Office of the State Fire Marshal. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

It took more than 40 firefighters from several companies over an hour to control the 2-alarm blaze, according to Robin Stansbury, of the Westminster fire company. The initial call went out at 1:55 a.m. and the fire was under control by 3:04 a.m., Stansbury said.

The blaze was reported by a passerby, according to the fire marshal's notice of investigation. There were no injuries in the fire.

The building was one of five that held livestock auctions across the state. Auctions were held every Tuesday and Thursday, and the second and fourth Saturday of each month. The building is located on the 1100 block of Old New Windsor Road.

During the auctions, customers could make bids and purchase various animals, including cows, chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs and items such as fertilizer, feed and produce.

"It's a real, real shame," said Earl Gouker, the building's owner. "We put a lot of hard work in here."

Gouker waited this morning at the building as the fire marshal continued his investigation.

News of the fire shocked farmers and customers who regularly attended the livestock auctions. Gouker said the auctions attracted up to 300 people.

"It's a huge loss, and not just for our local agriculture community," said Joanne Weant, agricultural development specialist with the county's Department of Economic Development.

Weant noted that people from Frederick, Prince George's and Montgomery counties have come to sell at the auctions. Weant, a Taneytown dairy farmer herself, said she had sold at the auction before as well.

Brooks Bachtel, Carroll County 4-H & FFA Fair board member, said a weigh-in for beef and dairy steer exhibitors was planned this weekend at the building, but has been moved to the Carroll County Agriculture Center's Therapeutic Riding Barn in Westminster Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon.

Bachtel, a beef farmer whose farmland is in Westminster and Taneytown, said he would sell excess cattle at the auctions around September, October and November. He said he hopes the auction building is rebuilt by then, but noted there are two livestock auctions in Pennsylvania and one in Hagerstown that local farmers could utilize.

Taneytown resident Roger Brown came to the building Wednesday morning to see if Gouker needed any help. He said he had been coming to the livestock auction since he was a child and was shocked to hear about the fire.

Brown said he participated in the auctions most weeks, but had stopped coming recently as the weather turned cold.

"Sometimes, my wife thinks this is my second home," he joked.

Maryon Johnson, who lives outside of New Windsor, said she would often bring her children to the auction, which she noted was at times very entertaining.

"It [was] fun to sit and watch," she said.

She, like Brown, came to support Gouker Wednesday.

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