Alta. fire destroys 6,000 hay bales

Officials are investigating the cause of a massive fire that destroyed nearly 6,000 bales of timothy hay near Taber, Alta., causing millions of dollars in damage.

“Some of the things that were found by the fire investigator (are) a concern, but we’re just right at the beginning of the investigation,” said Const. Corinne Oliver of the Taber RCMP.

Although it was too early to release further details, she said spontaneous combustion within the hay could also be a cause.

No people or animals were injured in the fire, which occurred about midnight Dec. 13 north of Fincastle, Alta., east of Taber. The blaze could be seen for several kilometres, said Oliver.

The fire occurred in a 160 by 240 foot hay shed being rented from an uncle by Johnson Fresh Farms, said co-owner and operator James Johnson.

Besides a nearby loader, the fire destroyed nearly 6,000 bales of timothy hay, which is exported to markets such as Asia for pets ranging from rabbits to gerbils, he said.

The farm’s losses are likely in the millions of dollars, he said.

Johnson said there are suspicions about the blaze due to where it started and how it burned, but the cause is still undetermined.

The farm, which also grows potatoes and Taber corn, was wrapping up its operations in advance of the Christmas holidays when the fire occurred, he said.

“You just have to kind of take the curveballs that life throws at you and deal with it as best you can.”

On Dec. 15, two days later, flames were still visible and the farm was keeping the site under 24-hour watch.

Although the roof of the hay shed had collapsed, most of the walls remained standing, creating a wind break that prevented gusts from spreading burning materials, Johnson said.

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