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Former Worker Charged with Arson in Evergreen Farm Fire

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W. Va. - Twenty-year-old Michael James Holstein, a former employee of Evergreen Farm in South Charleston, W. Va., was charged with second degree-arson, a felony, after admittedly setting fire to the stable area of the farm. Holstein worked cleaning stalls and cutting weeds for the farm for about a month. If convicted, he could be sentenced to one to ten years imprisonment.

The stable at Evergreen Farm, owned by Barbour Childress, caught fire sometime after noon on Tuesday, July 8 with 32 horses trapped inside. Seventeen of those horses were rescued and survived, but 15 were lost in the flames. At least 12 fire departments were called to the scene. “We could see the smoke two miles away. We knew it was bad,” Alum Creek Assistant Fire Chief Chris Thornhill told Charleston Gazette reporter Jan Boyles.

The stable and an indoor riding arena were consumed by the fire. The buildings’ unusual construction including large stick posts and a metal covering, are said to have contributed to the quick spread of the fire. Thornhill estimated that it took no more than 20 minutes for the buildings to burn. Within five minutes the horses’ stalls were filled with smoke.

Volunteers opened the doors to let the horses out, but some of them, frightened by the smoke, were reluctant to leave forcing the volunteers to use fire extinguishers to lure the horses out of the barn.

The local horse community has pulled together offering support to the displaced horses by donating food, equipment and stalls at nearby barns, in some cases moving their own horses to accommodate the Evergreen Farm survivors. Some people have even volunteered to clean stalls and build additions to house the horses. “I think that its less traumatic if we can keep the horses from Evergreen in one place,” Mary Alice Schmidt of Coventry Woods Stables told Charleston Gazette reporter Jan Boyles. Schmidt and trainer Lisa Pharr moved nine of the Evergreen horses to vacant stalls at Coventry Woods. They are expecting to house at least five more horses. “What’s amazed me is just how close-knit the horse community has been,” Schmidt continued. “Its been tough. I’ve known these people my whole life.”

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