Thousands of hay bales destroyed in massive fire

No people or animals were injured in the fire, which occurred Dec. 13 north of Fincastle, Alta., east of Taber. The blaze could be seen for several kilometres, said the RCMP. | James Johnson photo

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

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

It was reported about midnight by a motorist on a highway in the area, but the exact location wasn’t known, said a Facebook post by stations 4 and 7 of the M.D. of Taber Regional Fire Service. “At approximately 1 a.m. the fire was located by Station 2 after searching much of the north portion of their very large fire district north of Fincastle approximately six miles (9.7 kilometres).”

The blaze occurred in a 160-foot 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 hay was stacked about eight bales high, he said. The farm’s losses are likely in the millions of dollars, he said, adding he could not be more specific until insurance adjusters have assessed the damage.

Not only was it the largest shed being used by Johnson Fresh Farms, it was the only one that was being rented, he said. Its sheer size and the high value of its contents had made the farm particularly vigilant about avoiding fires, he said.

There are some suspicions about the blaze due to where it started and how it burned, “but yeah, at this time, it’s just undetermined and it’s under investigation,” said Johnson.

The farm, which also grows potatoes and Taber corn, was busy 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.”

Firefighters from stations 2, 4 and 7 conducted defensive operations until the threat of the blaze spreading to nearby forage bales and buildings was reduced, said the Facebook post. The site was turned over to the property owner about 8 a.m. Dec. 13, it said.

Active flames could still be seen two days later on Dec. 15 and the farm was keeping the site under 24-hour watch, said Johnson. 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, he said.

Contact doug.ferguson@producer.com

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