Barn fires kill 300 tonnes of farm animals, says province

After a string of fires in southern Ontario this year, it looks like it could be another bad year for farm animals. In the past two months, the government has been called upon 11 times to remove dead animals that perished in barn fires.

After a string of fires in southern Ontario, it looks like another bad year for farm animals

An aerial shot of the aftermath of the barn fire at Classy Lane Stables in Puslinch, Ont. (David Ritchie/CBC)

The string of violent barn fires that ripped through Ontario farms in the first two months of 2016 has led to at least 300 tonnes of dead animals, CBC News has learned.

That kind of volume is already higher than the 225 tonnes recorded for all of last year, or any other year dating as far back as 2012, according to the province's Ministry of Agriculture.

The numbers don't encompass every animal that perishes in a barn fire because the ministry will only help farmers with removal if the volume of carcasses reaches or exceeds 2,500 kilograms.

Although the ministry's figures don't encompass all deaths, animal rights activists say statistics are a good indication there is a problem on Ontario farms.

"Right now, we're not taking these barn fires seriously at all as a society," said Anna Pippus, an animal rights lawyer who works with Animal Justice. "Everyone with a responsibility for these barn fires needs to get serious and come up with a concerted response."

Anna Pippus, animal rights lawyer and director of farmed animal advocacy with Animal Justice. (CBC)

Ministry figures also show that Ontario farmers are increasingly turning to the provincial government to remove animals killed by fire.

The province was called out to remove burned carcasses after 16 different fires last year. That figure is up from the four times the government was called upon in 2013.

After the latest stretch of fires in southern Ontario this year, the province is on pace to once again exceed that figure. In the past two months, the government has been called upon 11 times to remove dead animals that perished in barn fires.

No political support

While animal rights groups have long been calling for stiffer fire safety regulations on farms, they haven't garnered much political support.

Ontario's Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal recognized the province is increasingly getting involved with "very, very tragic situations," but did not agree there is a need for more regulations or a provincial investigation into animal deaths related to fires.

Dozens of cattle have died following a Feb. 1 barn fire in Elgin County. (OPP)

"We rely on the fire marshal's office in the province of Ontario," he told CBC News. "They're a very dedicated, very experienced group and they leave no stone unturned when they do the investigation of these fires."

Ontario's two agriculture critics agree there is no need to change regulations. Both NDP MPP John Vanthof and Conservative MPP Toby Barrett prefer to turn to public education about fire prevention.

"There's a knee-jerk reaction to every time something bad happens that we need to create a new law to fix it," said Vanthof. "But if a barn gets hit by lightning or if electrical shorts out, a new regulation isn't going to change that.

But that's not good enough, said Pippus.  

"It's a slap in the face to the public. This is a huge issue of public concern," she said. "Politicians represent us and they work for us, so they really need to respond to what the public is saying and to get serious about it."

No animal protection

Changes to barn regulations are coming, but they are not designed to help animals, according to the National Research Council.

The federal government is working on updates to the National Farm Building Code, which outlines requirements for fire safety on farms across the country.

The commission overseeing the changes is looking at new requirements for fire safety, structural safety and the storage of combustible and flammable liquids, but those are targeted for the safety of farm workers.

"They're not looking at the protection of the animals in the building, they're looking specifically at protection of occupants of the building," said Philip Rizcallah, director of building regulations at the National Research Council.

Animal rights groups have asked for increased protection for animals, but those requests have been rejected.

"We have had individuals, companies, organizations submit requests for changes to consider protection of animals in these buildings," he said. "The last time the proposal was sent in to the commission, the commission turned it down. They said it wasn't an area they wanted to move into yet."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?