Kate Dallam, co-owner of the Broom's Bloom dairy farm and ice cream shop, was getting lunch with her daughter yesterday in Bel Air when a fellow patron asked her if she'd heard the news.
"She told me, 'Broom's Bloom is on fire, and the cows are still inside,'" Dallam recalled yesterday.
Dallam raced home, where more than 40 firefighters had already contained the two-alarm blaze, but not before the barn had burned to the ground, injuring a state trooper helping to get livestock away from the flames, causing $700,000 worth of damage and killing 10 cows.
Fire officials said the blaze broke out about 10:30 a.m. in the barn in the 1700 block of S. Fountain Green Road when the hot exhaust pipe of a small front loader came into contact with hay.
An off-duty state trooper, Cpl. James Joseph Kozlewski III, was injured after trying to help get livestock out, said Deputy State Fire Marshal W. Faron Taylor.
Kozlewski was knocked unconscious after being struck by falling debris. He was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he was treated for injuries that were not life-threatening.
By noon, farmers from around Harford County were streaming onto the property to help move the 47 surviving cows to other farms, where they needed to be milked and given water.
"It's going to be a huge project," said one of the farmers. "It'll take the rest of the evening."
The Broom's Bloom property, named for the area's Colonial land grant, has been in the Dallam family since 1726. It has been a dairy farm since 1996.
The creamery business has been praised by county officials as a good example of the changing face of Harford's dairy business, an industry that was the backbone of the county's economy during World War II.
Yesterday, County Executive David R. Craig and his top agricultural aide, C. John Sullivan III, visited the farm to view the damage.
"That farm went into agricultural preservation long before they ever thought about ice cream and cheese," Sullivan said. "They're stalwarts in the community, and this news is just devastating."
Officials at the scene said smoke from the fire was visible from downtown Bel Air, about five miles away.
Firefighters from five Harford County volunteer fire companies responded, bringing the fire under control in 45 minutes, said Dave Williams, a spokesman for the Harford County Volunteer Fire Department and EMS.
Several political candidates held events at Broom's Bloom Dairy during the recent campaign, picking the family-friendly spot to host supporters.
The boutique, which sells products manufactured at the farm, was not damaged in the fire because it is several hundred feet from the barn.
Patrons can taste hand-dipped ice cream or purchase pork sausage, artisan cheddar and products from neighboring farms.
While Dallam was hopeful that the family could rebuild the barn and keep their business going, the structure had sentimental value. Her husband, David, 43, had designed it after touring barns throughout Pennsylvania.
Left standing among the ashes yesterday were the silos and an adjacent pig pen. There were also large stacks of charred hay.
But the family has overcome fire damage before, Dallam said. Their home was restored after a blaze damaged the entire third floor and much of the second and first floors more than a decade ago.
"This is a pretty major setback, but we'll rebuild," she said.