Manitoba

'You're in shock': Family-owned hog farm grapples with loss of more than 3,500 hogs

A Manitoba farmer says he still hasn't had time to process the loss of a two-barn structure and more than 3,500 hogs in a fire earlier this week.

More than 3,500 hogs died in Thursday night fire at Hespeler Hog Farm near New Bothwell, Man.

As many as 4,000 hogs died in the fire on the New Bothwell farm. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

A Manitoba farmer says he still hasn't had time to process the loss of a two-barn structure and more than 3,500 hogs in a fire earlier this week.

Around 9 p.m. Thursday, Jason Falk was working at another site about a mile from the farm near New Bothwell, Man., when a neighbour stopped by and asked him if his barns were on fire.

"My first thought was, 'That's not possible. It must be someone else's.' And as I went around the corner to notice it was, to be honest, at that moment you're in shock," Falk said.

RCMP and three fire crews from the rural municipality of Hanover battled the blaze, but the building, which was comprised of two connected barns was a total loss.

The Hanover fire chief initially estimated 3,500 hogs died in the fire, but Falk said the number may be closer to 4,000, more than a third of the 9,000 hogs on the farm.

Falk said it's a setback for the family-owned operation.

"It means a lot of hard work. It means a lot of emotional and mental energy. It means restructuring what the employees will be doing," he said.

"It means a lot of things we don't know yet, because there are so many unknowns when we have a tragedy like this."

Jobs are not at risk as a result of the fire, Falk said.

Hogs at the farm have been infected with the porcine epidemic disease virus (PEDv), Falk said. He said the deadly illness adds "another layer" of difficulty to rebuilding.

Falk said his family has received "incredible support" from each other, friends and community members in the area and industry.

He took issue with comments he's seen on social media implying the fire was intentional.

"There's this underlying theme of maybe it being planned … and I just don't know why anyone would think that," he said.

"If they understood the emotional and mental toll of watching animals suffer and watching facilities burn they would understand that … it's crazy. I don't know how else to put it.

"There are enough challenges in other aspects of life that we all face, I don't know why anyone would want to add something like this to their plate."

Manitoba RCMP spokesperson Paul Manaigre said there are no immediate indications of suspected arson and the Office of the Fire Commissioner is continuing to investigate the blaze. 

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