As Stratham's fire chief, Matt Larrabee's first job as he arrives at a fire scene is to quickly size up the situation in order to develop a strategy.

"As I pull up I'm just trying to size up how big it is, how much resources we're going to need, what tactical decisions are we going to make, are we going to do offensive or defensive operations meaning interior or exterior fire fighting. What are our priorities? Obviously it's human life and then it's conservation of property after that," Larrabee told Seacoast Current.

On the night of May 10, Larrabee pulled up to no ordinary fire scene. It was a three-alarm fire at the historic Scamman Farm, a farm that he passed several times a day growing up in Stratham.

"That barn sits up on the hill and kind of stands out and is part of a lot of the backdrops in the town of Stratham. There's always nice sunsets and you can see weather coming in over that hill as you're on Portsmouth Avenue looking over the farm," Larrabee said. "But during the moment I'm just thinking about making sure there's no civilian or firefighter injuries. That's the number one priority. Making sure no people get hurt."

There are several barns on the property, which dates back to 1776, including a barn built in approximately 1836 as a dairy barn and converted to a poultry barn, according to the state Department of Natural & Cultural Resources. It was later converted back into a dairy barn.

The land has also been used as an apple orchard. It is now a hay and pumpkin farm.

Some people know the farm as Bittersweet Farm. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2019.

One of the barns on the farm went up in flames in a three-alarm fire that also claimed the lives of 300 chickens. Larrabee said firefighters which responded from nearly two dozen companies released the other animals out of the barn as they could.

A metal barn and its plastic window were also damaged in the fire. The fire fighting efforts were defensive to make sure no other structures caught fire, including a small unoccupied condo unit.

Larrabee said the third alarm was called to bring in tankers of water because there's no hydrants in the immediate area.

"Just because of the types of construction being barns and being open air. We wanted to make sure we got water on those additional structures and the adjacent barns," Larrabee said.

An Image of the New Hampshire Primary

Mitt Romney (2nd L), with wife Ann (L), prepares to announce his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination June 2, 2011 at Bittersweet Farm in Stratham
Mitt Romney (2nd L), with wife Ann (L), prepares to announce his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination June 2, 2011 at Bittersweet Farm in Stratham (Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Former Republican Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives Doug Scamman and his wife Stella have owned the farm since 1972. Along with the mills of Manchester, the White Mountains and country stores, the Scamman Farm is one of the images that have became part of the New Hampshire presidential primary according to Dean Spiliotes, civic scholar in the School of Arts and Science at SNHU.

"When you think about the New Hampshire primary a lot of what people are drawn to is the iconic imagery of participatory democracy, small town grass roots democratic process and the ability to meet candidates, take their measure and vet them in person," Spiliotes told Seacoast Current.

Besides hosting many local political events, the farm's most famous primary moment was perhaps Mitt Romney announcing his presidential run at the farm in 2011, according to Spiliotes. Romney returned in 2014 to endorse Scott Brown in his U.S. Senate challenge to incumbent Jeanne Shaheen.

"There are a number of these places for each party that are considered essential stops along the way to pay homage. It's also a way to plug into the local networks and the grassroots," Spiliotes said.

George Bush came to the farm in 1992 and George W. Bush visited as president in 2004, while candidate Carly Fiorina and John Kasich also came to the farm as part of their 2016 presidential runs.

Doug and Stella Scamman were state co-chairs of Kasich's 2016 campaign and tried unsuccessfully to get Kasich to make another run for the White House in 2020.

On his Twitter account, Gov. Chris Sununu called the Scamman Farm "a bedrock in southern NH for generations. We wish them all well as they rebuild to the future."

Hours after the fire, the family said on their Facebook page everyone on site was safe. On Thursday, the family took to Facebook to thank firefighters for their efforts and was appreciative of support from the community

"The influx of support, love, and well wishes received from the community has been amazing," they wrote. The Facebook page also showed repairs being made to one of the damaged smaller barns and grass being cut in a field.

The Scamman family declined to comment for this report.

Fire at a barn at the the Scamman Farm in Stratham
Fire at a barn at the the Scamman Farm in Stratham (Stratham Fire Department)

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNH

Politics at Scamman Farms in Stratham

Fire destroyed a barn at the historic Scamman Farm in Stratham which dates back to 1776. Owned by former NH House Speaker Doug Scamman and his wife Stella Scammen the farm has played a role in state presidential politics.

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