Flaming coals rained from the roof and smoke billowed from the barn, as Tricia Perkins tugged on a blind horse trapped by fire.

Perkins brushed away hot embers that fell on her and on Nigel, a 14-year-old Appaloosa, frozen with fear. Confused and nearly blind, the horse had attempted to run into the fire. He was cornered between a fence and the blazing barn. Nigel screamed, and stable mates, safe in a nearby paddock, whinnied in return.

“He was so scared he wouldn’t move,” Perkins said. “The building was ready to fall on him. It was so hot.”

Using her scarf as a lead line, Perkins kept her cool and finally coaxed Nigel to move and pulled him to safety. “It was so hot I almost died on the spot. I was so scared,” Perkins said.

Perkins and her husband, Patrick, lost their combination barn and indoor riding area in a blaze on Jan. 3 on County Road in Gorham. But Nigel and 18 other horses were saved, and no one was hurt in the inferno.

“I’m counting my lucky stars,” she said. “It was so awful I would hate to live through that day again.”

They plan to rebuild before her annual summer riding camp opens for kids. She said the first step is cleaning up the debris and getting estimates. “I can’t wait to get a new building up,” she said.

Perkins was alone in her kitchen when the fire erupted about 8:30 a.m. that day. One horse, Kirk, a slow eater, remained in his stall because he hadn’t finished cleaning up his breakfast grain. She had already returned most of her 19 horses to their outside paddock.

But the fire so frightened two horses that they broke through a fence and ran into the road. One was almost hit by a firetruck, Perkins said. However, Nigel bolted and tried to get into the burning barn.

“Horses will run back into fires because that’s where they feel safe,” she said.

An unknown man and woman stopped to help. The man tried to rescue the horses, but couldn’t. “It was all in flames,” Perkins said about the barn.

But Perkins ran into the barn to save Kirk, a 10-year-old thoroughbred. She opened his stall door and tugged on his blanket, and he followed her out.

That was when she went back for Nigel. She didn’t have time to get a lead rope. After Perkins led Nigel a short way, a woman, who had stopped to help fashion a lead, tied her scarf to the one Perkins had and held Nigel while Perkins ran for wire cutters. She cut a hole in a fence so Nigel could get in and corral Nigel away from the flames.

Perkins has had Nigel since he was a colt. “I didn’t want him to die in there. I’m so glad no one died,” she said.

A cat, which she fed in the barn, was still missing last week. Perkins hoped the cat escaped the blaze. A firefighter theorized the cat was so scared it might have run into nearby woods.

Following the fire, horse owners have rallied around Perkins. She now has horses stabled at several local farms, including the Waterhouse Farm and Free Style Farm, both in Scarborough; and two in Buxton, Hearts and Horses and Robin Cuffey’s farm.

Stephanie Keene, executive director and head riding instructor at Hearts and Horses, said the horses she took in after the fire are relaxed now. “It took two days for them to calm down,” Keene said. “They were frightened to death.”

Perkins has three of her horses in a paddock outfitted with what Perkins calls a “mootel,” a greenhouse-like structure designed for cows. In addition to Nigel, she has Galileo, which is a quarter horse, and Charlie, an Arabian, at home.

She carried flakes of baled hay into the paddock for them. The three horses sought her affection, but Nigel seemed to crave it the most. “I thought he was a goner,” she said as he lowered his head to be soothed by her hand.

A short distance from the paddock, the fire was still smoldering last week. Her 13-year-old daughter, Kasey Perkins, a Gorham Middle School student, found and saved charred bits, stirrups and metal parts of saddles as memorabilia. She piled them on the back porch of their home.

In the fire, they lost 35 saddles and bridles that Tricia Perkins had collected for nearly 40 years. A new English saddle can run $1,000. But she said insurance wasn’t covering saddles and bridles.

Perkins recommended that horse owners study their insurance policies and update their insurance coverages. At least one heeded. “The first thing I did was call my agent,” said Keene.

Sitting last week in her living room decorated with show ribbons and photos of horses and family, Tricia Perkins pointed to a saddle that someone had donated after the fire. There were other stable necessities like water buckets, lead ropes, halters and feed tubs piled in her living room. Some horse owners she didn’t know showed up with donations.

“People called from all over New England,” she said.

Horses and children have been her life. A retired schoolteacher, she teaches riding to nearly 100 students. “I like working around kids,” she said. “I enjoy the teaching.”

She grew up in Stroudwater in Portland and has been riding since age 6. She began as a member of a riding club at McAuley School in Portland. Her class rode at Tomlinson’s Riding School on Stroudwater Street in Westbrook.

She and her husband built their home 20 years ago on County Road. She first taught riding there outdoors. They added the 60-by-120-foot indoor riding arena in 1994.

Last week, Perkins reflected on loss of that arena. The tragedy could have been a lot worse, as firefighters saved the family’s home, and no one was hurt.

“We have a lot to be thankful for,” Perkins said.

Quick action and disregard for her safety saved Nigel and Kirk. Perkins coughed up a lot of “black stuff” the day after the fire. “I’m always thinking about fire. I’m going to be paranoid for awhile,” Perkins said.

Tricia Perkins soothes Nigel, a nearly blind Appaloosa horse she rescued from a barn fire at her farm in Gorham. “I thought he was a goner,” she said.Tricia Perkins carries hay to a paddock.Charred bits and stirrups on the porch at Perkins Farm in Gorham.


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