Mar. 10, 2020 – Better fire protection is needed in barns to stop the cruel deaths of tens of thousands of farm animals each year, says a report from the Humane Society of Canada.
“We’re just not realizing how big an issue this is and how many
people it impacts,” Riana Topan, who helped write the report, said
The humane society has combed through media reports and the few
government sources available and estimates that at least 750,000
animals have died in barn fires since 2015. That number is likely to
“Media reports are documenting only a fraction of the barn fire incidents that happen throughout Canada,” the study says.
Nearly three-quarters of the dead animals were chickens. Except
for 2019, every year in the study period had at least one fire that
killed more than 30,000 hens, roosters and chicks.
Pigs made up another 15 per cent of deaths. The numbers for cows
were low, but they were involved in more than half of all barn
fires, which killed 21 different species during the study period.
In Ontario, 39 farmers were injured trying to save their animals.
“There are numerous media interviews with farmers, their
neighbours, members of their communities and firefighters that
(recount) the screams and cries they heard from cows or pigs trapped inside burning buildings,” the report says. “The screams can last for hours.”
The economic loss is estimated to be at least $165 million.
Topan said changes are needed to Canada’s national building code,
now being revised by the National Research Council. A new code is
expected later this year.
“We should see a distinction between different types of
property,” Topan said. “Buildings that house animals should be
treated separately from buildings that house objects.”
Sprinkler systems, on-site water storage and heat and smoke
detection should all be considered, she said.
The society also endorses recommendations from the Ontario
government, which include isolating electrical equipment _ the cause of more than half of barn fires _ from the rest of the structure.
Farmers recognize fires are a problem, said Gary Stordy of the
Canadian Pork Council.
“It is a concern. It is the livelihood of the producer and it
also impacts mental health.”
Stordy warns that solutions developed in cities may not work on
farms. Sprinklers or pumps, for example, are useless if the power
they depend on is gone.
“That’s usually the first thing to be shut off,” Stordy said.
“(Sprinklers) are something that’s been looked into, but it has
to be a practical investment.”
Stordy added that fire suppression systems still wouldn’t help
farmers manage several hundred frightened and possibly injured
animals, at various stages of growth, whose first instinct would be
to head back into a burning barn.
The council emphasizes regular inspection and maintenance of
electrical equipment or periodic surveys for hot spots.
“Prevention is the ideal key.”
The national building code is revised every five years. Its
implementation is up to the provinces.
The National Research Council’s time period for public comment on
changes to the code closes at the end of this week.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 9,