A devastating fire that claimed four dairy barns and about 800 dairy cows near Steinbach has drawn attention and criticism across Canada.
The fire at Pennwood Dairy was reported in the Globe and Mail, as well as several Winnipeg news outlets. Animal advocacy organizations have since called for change to industry regulations.
Steinbach fire Chief Kelvin Toews said fire crews responded to a call just before 5 a.m. When they arrived, three barns were on fire. A fourth later ignited, though the 200 cattle from that barn were rescued, said Toews.
Firefighters were unable to rescue any of the cattle from the other barns.
“When the fire is advanced as it was when we got here, there’s virtually nothing (you can do),” said Toews. He added that attempting to do so would have risked firefighters’ lives.
Toews said the sheer size of the fire made it difficult to control. Crews from five neighbouring departments were called on to assist, especially with tanking in water to fight the blaze.
Following the fire, the Winnipeg Humane Society criticized the dairy industry to reporters.
Brittany Semeniuk, an animal welfare consultant with the society, told CTV, “So long as we continue to confine animals in buildings where there are high ammonia levels, high methane levels, and hay, wood and other flammable materials, these tragedies will continue.”
A local animal rights activist group planned a vigil at the farm site on August 16, according to Facebook posts from the organization.
The cause of the fire is not known. At time of writing, the Office of the Fire Commissioner has not concluded its investigation.
“This is not something anyone would ever want to have happen to them,” said David Wiens, chair of the Dairy Farmers of Manitoba.
“Animal care is paramount for farmers,” said Wiens, who owns a dairy farm near Grunthal, south of Steinbach.
Wiens said fires like this are rare, but he expects further safety recommendations will come from the Office of the Fire Commissioner once the investigation is complete.
Wiens said the fire will have an emotional toll on local farmers, as well as the Penner family, who lost most of their farm.
“It has been a devastating loss for the farm family,” he said. “It’s going to take awhile for them to regroup.”
Milk routes in the area will have to be reworked to ensure all milk orders are filled, said Wiens.
“We are confident that we will continue to supply all the dairy plants with their required milk orders,” he said. An average Manitoba dairy farm has 130 cows. At 1,000 head this operation represented approximately 2.5 per cent of Manitoba milk production.