A Monday-afternoon blaze gutted a 50,000-square-foot Busby-area chicken barn and killed thousands of egg-laying hens.
The fire broke out at 4:30 p.m. Sept. 19 at the Severson Free Run Barn and burned well into the next morning, killing 45,000 birds and all-but destroying the multi-million-dollar facility.
More than two-dozen firefighters from the Busby, Pickardville, Clyde and Westlock Rural Fire departments responded, but arrived too late to save the facility’s main building.
“The fire was well-advanced when it was detected, and the building was pretty well consumed [when we arrived on scene],” said regional fire chief John Biro.
Adding to the difficulty of the response, fire destroyed most of the barn’s structural supports, destabilizing its exterior brick walls.
Firefighters were able to save at least one out-building, an adjoining manure shed, but potential wall collapse and high temperatures inside the building prevented any entry while the fire raged.
“There’s a lot of areas that we weren’t able to get to with fire suppression for safety issues. When dealing with concrete and steel, there’s a lot of heat involved and there’s the possibility of wall collapse,” he said.
The barn, an egg-production facility located at near the intersection of Township Road 580 and Range Road 264, was one of the largest in Western Canada.
Although no workers were injured, Sparks Eggs director Muneer Gilani called the loss tragic.
“We’re just glad all of our people are out and safe. We’re taken aback and devastated with the loss of all of our chickens. These are birds that we’ve been taking care of since they were day-old chicks,” Gilani said.
“My family and I and our staff are just heartbroken with the loss.”
Outside of wildfire suppression, Biro said the scale of the response is something that Westlock firefighters have not dealt with in more than a decade.
“For a single building, this was probably one of the biggest dollar-figure losses that we’ve had in our county,” Biro said.
Though it could take months to investigate the cause of the blaze and evaluate its financial impact, Milani said the company will consider rebuilding the facility, though its location can not yet be determined.
“I don’t see us looking at this as a reason not to rebuild. I think it’s a question of, ‘can we use the existing building as it is?’” Milani said.
“I think it would be early to say, but in terms of our staff, all of them, we’re not going to let anyone suffer as a result of this.”
Luckily, Biro said, all 26 attending firefighters escaped injury.
“[We] monitor our firefighters that are going through rehab. It’s just part of our protocol where members that are in fighting fire in extreme conditions, they get checked out by EMS on site.”