Forty-five cows and a calf perished Tuesday morning in a fire that destroyed a milk barn in Alma.
Wendell Dunbar, who owns the farm with his brother Ivan, said the heat was so intense when they arrived at the barn around 5:15 a.m. that they couldn’t get near the burning structure. “It would wrinkle the skin on your face,” he said of the heat across the driveway from the barn. They were, however, able to rescue some livestock from an adjacent barn and close some doors to prevent the fire from spreading.
The steel siding on the barn helped prevent the fire from spreading and also contained its heat. “She was blood red from one end to the other,” he described the scene. And then the barn collapsed, “as if you let the air out of a balloon.”
The fire has at least temporarily shut down the fifth-generation farm’s dairy operation. They had been milking 55 cows prior to the fire. The remaining members of the dairy herd have been dispersed to a neighbouring dairy farm while the Dunbars decide their next step. Bred heifers and cows are still being housed in other barns on the farm. The loss is insured. If they rebuild, Wendell said the new barn will likely go up further from the other barns.
All of the milking equipment, their feeding system, a John Deere tractor, a pressure washer and other milk house equipment was destroyed. “I didn’t even save a bucket.”
But it is the loss of the cows that bothers him. “I wish they could’ve got out,” he said. The farm owners were still awaiting a visit and direction from the Department of Environment Tuesday afternoon before they could proceed with a clean-up of the site.
There were more livestock stabled in an adjacent barn, mere metres from the rubble, and they survived unscathed.
“The wind direction was blowing, roughly from the west, nor-west, so the smoke carried towards the east and stayed away from that building,” Alberton fire chief, Shannon Dunville noted.
A passerby had alerted the Dunbars to the fire. Alberton Volunteer Fire Department called in the neighbouring departments of Tignish, Miminegash, Alberton, O’Leary and West Point for assistance on the early morning call. A Maritime Electric crew was dispatched to the scene to disconnect power to the barn. Department of Highways personnel assisted with traffic control.
The Alberton department was called back Tuesday afternoon after the contents of a grain tank next to the flattened barn ignited.
Two other barns and a house just beyond them were also in close proximity to the fire. Dunbar said the heat was so intense that it warped some of the siding on the house. He’s thankful the wind was light when the fire started as that also helped prevent it from spreading, he said.
Dunbar said a fire investigator with the fire marshal’s office told him the damage to the barn was so extensive that it is doubtful a cause will ever be determined. From what he witnessed upon his arrival, Dunbar believes the fire started near the south end of the barn and worked its way to the other end.