The sign stood for less than a day before it burned to the ground.
On Friday evening, Dicken Crane was baling hay on his farm with Peter Bardin, one of the farmhands.
Bardin was facing a massive sign — 19 bales of hay stacked on each other, painted red and blue on top of a white covering that made the bales look like giant marshmallows — that expressed support for the Democratic presidential ticket, former vice president Joe Biden and California Senator Kamala Harris.
Then he turned around.
When Bardin turned back about a minute later, he saw the 15-foot-tall structure ablaze. It had been erected less than 24 hours earlier on Holiday Brook Farm by the farm crew.
Lonnie Durfee, 49, of Dalton, is facing charges of burning personal property in connection with the blaze, police said Saturday morning. He will be arraigned at Central Berkshire District Court on Tuesday.
Crane expected some kind of vandalism to befall the giant political sign, he said, but nothing of such dramatic proportions.
“We’re not afraid. We were very much expecting there would be something that would happen,” Crane said in a phone interview Saturday morning. “I never expected someone to try to light it on fire. That we did not expect.”
Plumes of smoke filled the sky as firefighters battled the blaze. It was under control within 45 minutes, Crane said. Fire department officials could not be reached for comment.
Immediately, the farm crew believed the fire was set intentionally by critics of the Democratic candidate, they said. Kate Pike, the vegetable production manager on the farm who helped build the sign, noticed something suspicious before she left the farm for the day.
“I thought someone spilled coffee over it or something,” Pike said. “Before I even made it home, the sign was in flames.”
Despite the shock of the vandalism, Pike is resolute in the message she wants to send her neighbors, she said.
“I feel proud of our sign and our message and I’m proud of the support we’ve gotten,” Pike said. “It was brave to do it. The sign was big, but our voices were bigger.”
The blaze was first reported by the Berkshire Eagle.
Crane, who is a descendent of prominent 19th-century businessman Zenas Crane, founder of stationery and currency manufacturer Crane & Co., decided to build the sign as a response to the many large banners he has seen supporting President Trump around town.
The gesture was meant to show the community that his voice matters too, he said. In recent weeks, signs supporting Biden had been stolen from front yards in the area. Visitors stopped along Route 9 to take pictures of Crane’s sign during the brief time it was displayed, Crane said.
“We thought, ‘Let someone try to steal these,’ ” Crane said of the hay bales, which each weighed about a ton. “It wasn’t an anti-Trump thing; it was just to match the pro-Trump banners. This wasn’t meant to anger anybody or done in anger.”
Pittsfield City Councilor Helen Moon, who lives on the border of Pittsfield and Dalton, was taken aback when she saw photographs of the fire, she said.
“Such an incident of violence is shocking and a painful realization that there is a lot of hate,” Moon said. “I feel like you would see a picture like that from national news, not from our little community.”
In the past month, tensions between Black Lives Matter protestors and Trump supporters have sparked violence locally, she said. Small incidents like those underscore a much larger issue during the election season and make this election, she said, feel more urgent than ever.
“It has come to a point where it’s not just opposing political views, but it feels like opposing views on our values and life,” Moon said. “Things can be replaced yes, but it’s more like the fear of just taking an opposing view that has led to violence. That’s not tolerable as a community at all.”
Although the fire ruined the nearly two dozen bales of hay — a valuable commodity used to feed cattle — Crane is more hopeful now than before that his message will be heard across the country.
Members of the farm crew were able to salvage five of the smoldering bales of hay from the inferno. They erected a new, smaller sign on the property Saturday.
There wasn’t enough room to repaint the names on the bales, so Pike decided to condense the message to its core purpose: “VOTE,” with an American flag adorning a salvaged bale.
Crane and the farm crew hope to use the attention caused by the fire to direct funds to voting advocacy groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, in the coming days, he said.
“We thought since it was a pretty big sign it would get a lot of attention,” Crane said. “We never imagined it would get this much attention.”
Matt Berg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mattberg33.