A fire that killed 50,000 Pekin ducks on New Year's Day in Quebec's Eastern Townships could have been twice as bad, according to the local fire chief.

Firefighters were called to the duck barn around 7 p.m. on Friday when an ambulance driver saw a "ball of fire" in the sky near the village of Racine.

Half of ducks saved

When firefighters from the Valcourt, Que., fire department reached the building, they were faced with a stressful situation.

There were two buildings: one, completely ablaze, and the other, full of 50,000 live ducks.

Éric Arsenault

Fire Chief Éric Arsenault said firefighters were called to the scene after an ambulance driver saw a ball of fire in the sky. (Radio-Canada)

Fire Chief Éric Arsenault feared the fire could spread and kill the rest of the ducks. He said he could tell immediately that there was no saving the first building.

"The building, which was 800-feet long, was more than half burnt. It was falling into itself," he said.

Arsenault called for backup from neighbouring municipal fire departments and his department got to work extinguishing the flames. The fire was stopped before it spread into the neighbouring building.

"Fortunately, the wind was in the right direction and the flames were spreading to the snowy field and not to the second building," Arsenault said.

In the end, the other building — and the 50,000 ducks inside — remained untouched by the fire.

Cause unknown

What caused the fire remains a mystery, according to Arsenault. No one was working when the fire started and the cause is not considered to be criminal.

It's also unknown how long the fire was burning before it was reported to firefighters.

On Saturday, it continued to smoulder.

'Major loss' for township business

The CEO of Brome Lake Ducks, Claude Trottier, said the loss of one building, plus everything inside, was valued at about $3 million.

Brome Lake Ducks is one of the largest businesses in Quebec's Eastern Townships. For over a century, the company has raised and bred Pekin ducks, the most widely bred commercial duck according to the U.K. Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International. 

Pets-Easter Ducks

The Pekin duck is the most widely bred commercial duck, according to the U.K. Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International. (Lydia Yasuda/Associated Press)

"It's a major loss for us," said Trottier.

On top of that, he's dealing with a more immediate problem.

Another 28,000 ducks were supposed to be held there in two weeks. In four weeks, the company is set to receive another 28,000 ducks on top of that.

"It's a major site for us. We also do research there," said Trottier.

There are plans to rebuild the facility starting mid-January, but Trottier said the financial impact of losing the birds — which represent about 17 per cent of the company's livestock — will be hard to recuperate from.