Barn fire kills sanctuary farm animals near Chatham-Kent
'Devastating' and 'heartbreaking' fire destroyed a barn filled with farm-rescued animals
Early Thursday morning, Bernard the donkey yelped out in distress to alert Chatham-Kent's Charlotte Freedom Farm staff that one of its barns was in flames.
The barn fire, which took place just after midnight, was found by a staff member who awoke to Bernard's yelps. By the time the employee got out to the barn, it was engulfed in flames and for at least seven animals trapped inside, it was too late.
"It's definitely been a tough day," said Meaghan Marton, who's been volunteering at Charlotte's for two years. "To stand there in front of a barn and see what it used to be and now what it is, it's very heartbreaking."
Marton said multiple fire crews arrived on scene to get the fire under control.
While a majority of the animals were able to get out unharmed, Charlotte Freedom Farm owner Lauren Edwards told CBC News in a message that one dog, a one-year-old pony and five cats died. She said they are still searching for a few missing ducks and chickens.
Marton said a pig and rooster also sustained some minor burns.
All of the animals are farm-rescued and have been rehabilitated after experiencing abuse or neglect.
The exact financial damage to the barn is unknown at this time, but might be in the hundreds of thousands, Edwards said.
Though the barn is unsalvageable, Marton said their focus has been on the animals they've lost.
"A barn can be rebuilt, the loss of the animals is pretty much something that we'll never get back."
On Thursday, Marton and other volunteers worked to clean up the rubble left behind and ensure the displaced animals have other sleeping accommodations.
"I know our volunteers are really upset to hear about this 'cause they put a lot of time and their heart into it and just knowing that you feel most helpless in a situation like this," Marton said. "Overall it's just been a really hard, heartbreaking and devastating thing to happen."
Charlotte's Freedom Farm, previously located in Comber, Ont. outside of Lakeshore, recently moved to the Chatham-Kent region in May.
While some of the space at the Chatham-Kent location was newly built by Charlotte's, the barn that caught fire had only been renovated with new stalls, Marton said.
The cause of the fire is unknown and an investigation by Chatham-Kent Police is ongoing.
The farm posted on its Facebook page Thursday noting that they "had an electrician come out to make sure everything was safe before we even moved any animals onto the property." It continued to say that nothing was plugged into the outlets in the barn last night.
A sentimental item that was lost was a large painting of their goat Aspy, who was the farm's first goat in a wheelchair. The goat is important to the farm and Marton said it's seen as an angel that overlooks the animals, but she was sad to see that the fire had also destroyed the art piece.
"It's going to be a lot of rebuilding, of not only structures, but of the animals and our hearts as well," Marton said.