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Incident Report: Barn structure posed challenges

Just as Sooke volunteer firefighters prepared to enjoy dinner with their families on March 23, 2007, pagers alerted them to a reported structure fire. 

April 28, 2008
By Steve Sorensen

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Floor collapse above area of origin in a chicken barn.
PHOTO COURTESY STEVE SORENSEN

Just as Sooke volunteer firefighters prepared to enjoy dinner with their families on March 23, 2007, pagers alerted them to a reported structure fire. 

As a structure fire is a general-alarm type of call, firefighters from both Sooke fire stations were notified. First arriving on scene was Engine 205 from Station 1, with the officer reporting a large, two-storey, metal-clad farm building with heavy fire showing from the open doors on the east end of the building.

The building measured 65 x 15 metres, was wood framed in construction and covered with sheet metal on all the walls and roof. Exposures included a second barn, the same size and construction as the building on fire. Separated by less than a 10-metre space, this building contained more than 11,000 chickens and was in danger if the fire managed to penetrate the sheet metal covering the original fire building. A large propane tank was adjacent to this second building and there were numerous overhead power lines. 

First-in crews immediately laid a four-inch supply line to a nearby hydrant and quickly mounted an aggressive attack using two 1.75-inch lines. With the fire spreading rapidly, mutual aid for additional manpower was requested from the nearby Otter Point Fire Department. 

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Additional apparatus was now arriving on scene. Engine 201 from Station 2, arriving from the opposite end of town, laid in an additional four-inch supply line to another hydrant on an adjacent street. As the fast-moving fire began to tax the water supply, third due Engine 204 was used as a relay pump to boost the pressure from the second hydrant. By now, several 1.75-inch lines, one 2.5-inch line and a master stream device were all trained on this fast-moving fire. 

With the sheet metal construction, penetration into the building was very difficult.  Crews working with pike poles and circular saws fitted with metal cutting blades managed to cut openings into the structure at strategic points to allow water to penetrate into the seat of the fire.

The fire building housed workshops, storage areas and horse stalls on the main floor and chickens on the second level. 

The fire, feeding on the open wood construction and the large quantity of combustible storage quickly travelled through the building. Firefighters managed to halt the fire spread at the horse stalls, saving approximately one-third of the building. Open staircases helped spread the fire up to the second level.

In one section, portions of the floor collapsed due to fire damage of the beams and support columns. As this was the area of origin, the fire damage was most significant in this section of the building. At one point during the incident, arriving firefighters commented that the building became so hot that the metal siding appeared almost transparent as they could see right into the building. 

After two and half hours of aggressive attack, the fire was knocked down with no damage to exposures. Crews working on the second floor commented that a lot of insulation had fallen down and that it was difficult to walk through the wet piles.  After the smoke cleared and some additional lighting was provided to the second floor, it turned out the insulation firefighters thought they were walking through was actually hundreds of dead chickens that had succumbed to the fire and smoke. A total of 5,500 chickens was lost in the incident, although the other 11,000 in the second barn suffered no ill effects.

Cause of the fire was determined to be accidental. Two teenagers, one the grandson of the owner and a friend, admitted to starting the fire. They had been dipping wooden sticks into a can of gasoline, igniting them and waving the sticks around like swords. One tripped and knocked over the gas can, igniting the contents. With the fire quickly spreading, they ran for the house and called 9-1-1.  No charges were laid but the majority of the building and all the contents were destroyed. Damage was estimated at more than $300,000. The remainder of the building was torn down and later replaced with a new barn. While insurance covered the cost of the building and the chickens lost, there was a substantial loss to the owners in the form of lost revenue from the sale of the chickens and eggs during the subsequent rebuilding process. 

A total of 30 firefighters, manning four engines and one CAF unit, fought the fire. No injuries were reported, although one firefighter did manage to get stuck in a large manure pile while attempting to take a hose line around the side of the building. While not injured, he did suffer the humiliation of being stuck in the sodden and somewhat smelly pile. 


Lessons learned  

Due to the collapsed floor area, firefighters had to be continually reminded to stay out of this area during the overhaul stage. Taping off or flagging the area may have assisted in marking this area as a danger zone.


  • Access into the building was very difficult due to the sheet-metal siding and roofing. Having additional firefighters on scene to facilitate in making cutting holes and gaining access was critical in the suppression efforts.  Early requests for mutual aid are critical in ensuring adequate resources are on hand to fight these types of fires.

  • Using relay pumping methods to boost pressures in areas of low water supply require practice and training by pump operators to be most effective. The engine used in this operation for the relay pumping could have been positioned in a better location and closer to the hydrant to be most effective.

  • Playing with fire inside a barn is probably not the best idea of entertainment for teenagers.


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