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UPDATE: Cows’ deaths hardest part for Alma dairy farm owner

An excavator pokes through the rubble of a milk house which was destroyed by fire early Tuesday in Alma. An estimated 36 cows perished in the fire but cows in an adjacent barn were spared.
An excavator pokes through the rubble of a milk barn which was destroyed by fire early Tuesday in Alma. Forty-five cows and a calf perished in the milk barn, but livestock in an adjacent barn was spared. - Eric McCarthy

Forty-six animals lost in West Prince fire

ALMA

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.”

A Tuesday morning fire at a dairy farm in Alma, levelled a milk house and claimed the lives of 46 animals.
A Tuesday morning fire at a dairy farm in Alma, levelled a milk barn and claimed the lives of 46 animals.

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.

Firefighters from five West Prince departments managed to contain a dairy farm fire in Alma this morning to one building. The milk house and approximately 36 cows were lost.
Firefighters from six West Prince departments managed to contain a dairy farm fire in Alma Tuesday to one building. The milk barn and 46 animals were lost.

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.

An excavator pulls equipment from the rubble of a milk house that was destroyed by fire on an Alma dairy farm this morning.
An excavator pulls equipment from the rubble of a milk barn that was destroyed by fire on an Alma dairy farm Tuesday morning.

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.

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