About 4,500 pigs died when fire swept through a hog barn at the Bentley Hutterite Colony on Monday morning.
Bentley Fire Chief Todd Gustafson said they got the call about 6:45 a.m. and when the first volunteer firefighters arrived heavy smoke was already billowing from one of two large hog barns located side by side at the farm site about five km southeast of Bentley.
“It was heavily involved. There were some flames showing on the north and east side of the building itself but there was certainly heavy smoke coming from all sides of the building,” Gustafson said.
Lacombe, Blackfalds, Eckville and Sylvan Lake fire departments arrived to help and about four dozen firefighters were on scene at peak.
Gustafson said it was apparent early on the barn was too badly damaged to save so the focus was on keeping flames from spreading.
“So we basically put all of our resources into saving the building on the south,” he said.
“Fortunately, we were able to save the south barn. I guess at the end of the day we did what we could to contain the fire and keep losses at a minimum.”
The fire was under control around 1 p.m. but was still smouldering more than an hour later as cleanup continued.
Some of the pigs in the north barn were moved out in time, but most succumbed to the smoke. Several thousand pigs in the south barn also survived thanks to firefighters’ efforts.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. A damage estimate was not yet available.
Colony resident Lela Hofer said the fire department arrived within five to 10 minutes of the call, but the fire had spread quickly.
“By the time the fire trucks were here it was too far gone already. They wouldn’t let nobody into the barn anymore or the office. The whole building was on fire already.”
Two dogs were rescued from the burning barn and a computer hard drive with all of the hog operation information was saved from an office area between the barns.
A new feeding system had just been installed in the barn, which was insured she said. Her husband, his brother and her two sons spent every day working in the barn, which was left a twisted mess of corrugated steel.
Residents from half a dozen other area Hutterite colonies immediately headed to the Bentley area to help when they heard of the disaster.
“There’s a bunch of ladies and girls here to help too in the kitchen to make snacks and whatever for all the guys here,” she said.
Hofer believes more than 5,000 hogs in the farrowing barn, which was full of piglets and sows, may have been lost.
“It’s very sad, but you can’t do nothing about it. Just take it as it is and we’ll have to rebuild it.”
No one in the colony or any of the firefighters were injured.