Ontario barn fires put farmers on high alert

Some Ontario farmers are ramping up security measures after a string of barn fires killed thousands of farm animals in the past two months.

Barn fires killed thousands of farm animals in past 2 months

Ontario farmers like Tammy Sauder are installing early warning systems to warn them of possible fires.

It was just another quiet afternoon until the squelch of sirens blasted from the loudspeakers at a horse-rescue barn in outside Holstein, Ont.

Within minutes, nearly a dozen neighbours were driving up to the farm that afternoon in January looking to help Tammy and her husband Marvin.

Tammy said she is happy with the response. The owner of TamMar Equine had just tested her new early warning system designed to save the lives of her 37 horses, should a fire break out.

Like many other Ontario farmers, the Sauders are ramping up security measures after a string of barn fires killed thousands of farm animals in the past two months.

"I, like everybody else, watched the barn fires that were going on this year," Tammy told CBC News. "It's terrifying. I think it's the biggest fear any farm owner has."

The OPP tweeted this photo Monday of a barn fire in Elgin County. (OPP)

With the nearest fire station about 25 minutes away, Tammy wanted to design a system that would allow her to get her animals out before it was too late.

"Our biggest problem is that we're not getting to these barns soon enough," she said. "We need to know when these fires start before there's flames."

Tammy worked with the alarm company to come up with a system tailored to her needs. She installed smoke detectors and heat sensors that, if set off, trigger a wave of alerts. The fire department is notified immediately and text messages are sent to Tammy, her husband and her parents.

Early response

The screaming sirens alert the neighbours, who've already agreed to come and lend a hand, should a fire break out. That early assistance could be the difference.

"I can't get all the horses and everything out of my barn by myself and wait 25 minutes for the fire department to show up," she said. "I need it cleared faster, I need help here sooner."

Other farmers are following Tammy's lead. Lauralynn Gibbons bought a new alarm system for her 200-year-old barn, located just outside London.

Gibbons is installing a heat-sensor system that will send out a similar wave of alerts, should the temperature in the barn suddenly rise. In addition to alerting the fire department, the alarm company will push a flood of text messages to Gibbons and a list of her friends and family living in the area.

"It's terrifying," she said of the fires that have torn through Ontario this year alone. "Obviously, I'm concerned for my livestock and their safety."

Fire prevention

Gibbons says she's always gone to great lengths to prevent fires at the barn, where she houses 16 horses. Electrical wiring is strung along the ceiling, instead of in the floors where nibbling rodents are known to start fires.

She regularly sweeps up cobwebs, which are a common source of fires, and she never stores combustible items in the barn.

Even with all the prevention methods, though, Gibbons went on high alert when a friend lost nine horses in a barn fire in Norwich Township last weekend.

That friend was Darlene Kinnear, the owner of a horse-riding stable. She moved her horses to the barn on New Road, just east of London, in January.

When the fire hit, the horses had no way out.

That blaze was the ninth barn fire in southern Ontario. More than 5,000 animals are estimated to have died in those fires, including pigs, goats and cows.

Make it mandatory

The province's Ministry of Agriculture said it has helped remove more than 300 tonnes of dead animals that perished in barn fires this year alone. That figure is already higher than the 225 tonnes it helped remove in 2015, or any other year since 2012.

Both Kinnear and Gibbons agreed there may be a need for stiffer regulations to force barn owners to install the some basic fire prevention or fire warning systems.

Kinner is already looking for new horses as she rebuilds her business. She said she plans to avoid using barns altogether.

"After this loss, I will never have my horses in a barn again," she told CBC News. "My horses were not in a barn before I moved them there and now I just feel they're safer outside."

Tammy wants to see systems like hers mandatory, as well.

"I know that's probably going to upset a few people...but I do think it should be mandatory to put these systems in."


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