The Sunday Magazine

Thousands of farm animals die in barn fires, and no one seems to care

Vicki Fecteau, director of the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals, talks to Michael Enright about the vast number of animals that die in barn fires in Canada, and what should be done to prevent such fires.
Barn fires kill thousands of animals each year in Canada. (Dale Martin/Twitter/Woolwich Fire)

Originally published on December 9, 2018.

When a barn catches fire, it can have disastrous consequences for the livestock trapped inside.

"The animals have no chance to escape. I mean, how do you evacuate 5,000 pigs or 60,000 chickens?" says Vicki Fecteau, the director of the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals.

The immense scale of modern farming and the giant barns required mean the casualties are often enormous.

Fecteau spoke to Michael Enright, host of The Sunday Edition, about the coalition's efforts to raise awareness about the toll barn fires take on the lives of animals.

Between January 2015 and October 2018, 610,000 farm animals died in barn fires in Canada.

Fecteau said society has a blind spot when it comes to the wellbeing of livestock.

For example, she said, there was international media coverage when 43 racehorses died in an Ontario barn fire in 2016.

"That very same week, 50,000 ducks died in a fire in Quebec and that did not make the news at all. It may have made a local paper but, you know there was really no news about that at all."
Fecteau said people are very responsive when companion animals — including horses — are hurt or killed, but not livestock.
Vicki Fecteau says the media rarely takes notice when livestock are killed in barn fires. (John Ulan/University of Alberta)

The problem is not just the size of modern barns, but their susceptibility to fires.

Ontario's Agriculture Ministry reports that 40 per cent of barn fires in that province are related to electrical problems.

Fecteau said the environment in barns is very damaging on electrical systems, and can cause the equipment to deteriorate and malfunction.

"There are corrosive gases like ammonia [...] and hydrogen sulfide from animal waste. They have high humidity levels. There's a lot of dust."

The coalition is now working with the government to try to increase the use of fire detection systems in barns in Canada.

Fecteau said installing fire systems is expensive for farmers, but they also lead to lower insurance premiums.

Click "listen" above to hear the interview.




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