A 250-foot-long, two-story chicken house on an egg farm in northwestern Berks County was destroyed by a fire Sunday evening, one day before it was scheduled to receive 21,000 chicks.

Frystown Fire Company Chief Travis Musser said farm owner Stephen Olesh phoned him shortly after 5:30 p.m. to report one of his chicken houses in the 500 block of Beagle Road, near Route 645 north of Interstate 78 in Bethel Township, was on fire. Musser lives next to the farm and has known Olesh for years.

Fortunately, no animals were in the burning structure.

The first crews to arrive mounted an interior attack, but the effort shifted to a defensive posture as flames spread through much of the structure, Musser said.

About 100 firefighters from numerous companies needed about 4 ½ hours to put out the fire. Crews from four Lebanon County companies and one Schuylkill County assisted Berks fire companies.

Musser said less than half of the structure was left standing. Crews managed to keep the fire from spreading to other buildings.

Trooper Corey Heimbach of the state police fire marshal's unit said the fire originated in the second floor of the western third of the building. A cause has not been identified.

He estimated damage at $200,00.

Musser said the destroyed chicken house is one of three on the site, and was used to nurture baby chickens into hens. The egg-laying hens are kept in the other structures, but they too were empty at the time of the fire.

“These are older houses,” he said. “All were sitting empty, set to get chickens.”

The blaze occurred three weeks after a hen house on a commercial egg farm in Upper Bern Township, near Shartlesville, was destroyed by flames, killing more than 66,000 chickens. The fire at A&R Farms caused an estimated $2 million damage, according to state police.

The cause of that fire remains under investigation.

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