A P.E.I. farmer may have lost thousands of chickens when a fire destroyed part of his barn Sunday night.

Leith Murray told CBC News Monday there were 40,000 chickens in the barn, with about 20,000 in the center area where the fire broke out.

Murray said he was visiting with friends for dinner when the alarm went off. He quickly made his way back to his property on Spring Valley Road to see smoke and flames coming from the barn. The fire department was already on site when he arrived.

"It looks like the fan caught fire somehow and it went up through the walls and up into the attic, like, it's all contained within a small distance," he said.

"In that one side there's about 20 thousand birds. We have mortalities and there are some that are living and there is obviously smoke inhalation in the birds that are still alive. Devastating you know. It's hard to deal with that kind of stuff."

Murray is still not sure how many birds died in the fire. He is working with the Atlantic Veterinary College to determine the condition of the chickens that survived the blaze and smoke.

The provincial fire marshal's office is investigating the cause. The property was insured.

Murray said the farm has been in operation since 1977 and he hopes to continue.