Saskatoon

Employee fired after firefighters not allowed on site as Sask. barn kills 12,000 pigs

Thousands of pigs have perished after a fire burned down a barn northwest of Rosetown, Sask Friday night.

Company says damages estimated in the millions of dollars

Ae barn holding 12,000 sows and piglets burned down, killing all the animals inside. (Darrell Morrison/Rosetown Fire Department)

The volunteer fire department that responded to a Saskatchewan barn fire was turned away from the property and forced to watch it burn.

The hog production facility, known as Eagle Creek Farm, is owned by Quebec meat production company Olymel.

The Rosetown Fire Department responded to the scene on Friday night.

Volunteer firefighter Darrell Morrison said they could see the fire, which has already engulfed the building, from seven or eight kilometres away.

When they arrived at the site, he said they were discussing how to fight the fire.

That's when an employee of the farm came up and told them they weren't allowed on the property.

It was very troubling to hear that there was an employee there who did not allow the fire department on site.- Casey Smit, VP  with Olymel

"We never sprayed a drop of water," Morrison said. "It was very frustrating. We're there to help and to try and contain situations like this and when you're not allowed on by the property owner there's not much you can do." 
An aerial view of the Olymel Eagle Creek facility after the fire. (Submitted by Scott McIntosh)

Morrison said the animals were presumed dead when they got there.

Casey Smit, vice president of swine production for Olymel's Western Canada division, said he learned Monday that firefighters and RCMP had been turned away by one of his employees.

Smit said that decision was contrary to their policy. It was the barn manager who had in fact called 911 from another location.

"We are of the belief, of course, that a fire department should have full access to the site to deal with the fire," Smit told CBC. "It was very troubling to hear that there was an employee there who did not allow the fire department on site.

"That will form some of the investigation and we'll see where that leads." 

Senior mill technician Scott McIntosh said he asked the firefighters not to fight the fire. 

He said he was terminated from the company on Monday. The company confirmed one employee has been fired since the incident.   

"I pulled them back from a fire that was out of control and not clearly visible," McIntosh said. "The flames were 80 feet high and obscured by thick, black smoke caused by animals burning." 

"I told them, 'I need you guys to get back, it's unsafe. Get to the road.' And they complied. We would've had dead firefighters if I had not done what I did."

Fire cause, handling under investigation

Smit said there were no sprinkler systems installed at the facility. While the cost of damage is unknown, he estimated it to be in the millions of dollars.

Twelve people work at the location. None of them were injured in the incident.

The provincial fire commissioner is now investigating the cause.

"We will be cooperating fully with the investigation and we want to know the exact cause of the fire," said Olymel communications officer Richard Vigneault.

Rosetown Fire Chief Dennis Ogg said the fire didn't spread after the production facility finished burning. 
Firefighters say the building was completely engulfed when they arrived on the scene. (Darrell Morrison/Rosetown Fire Department)

The fire crew responded to the scene with one fire truck and a crew van after being called just before midnight. 

"We had a fair amount of rain before so the grass and surrounding [area] wasn't a problem and it wasn't close to any other structures," Ogg said. "It was virtually down and smouldering."

Vigneault said the company is working to move employees to other operations. Five have already been reassigned.

Smit said the company plans to go through their insurance company to rebuild the facility or something like it.

Corrections

  • Due to incorrect information provided to CBC, a previous version of this story indicated the fire department was called at 6:43 p.m. and sent two fire trucks and a utility truck. The department, in fact, was called just before midnight and responded with one fire truck.
    Jun 05, 2018 4:01 PM CT

With files from Samanda Brace