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This article was published 12/6/2017 (913 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Following the deaths of about 3,500 hogs in a fire near New Bothwell on Thursday, Hog Watch Manitoba is calling on the Pallister government to reinstate fire regulations the province changed this year.
In January, the provincial government announced its repeal of the Manitoba farm building code, which effectively reduced regulations for fire alarm systems and fire-rated separations in buildings with "low-human occupancy."
Humans might not live in those buildings, but about 3.5 million hogs in Manitoba do, and Hog Watch thinks the changes are inhumane and will lead to more tragedies like the one in New Bothwell.
"These awful, fiery deaths for these animals are preventable," said Vicki Burns, a member of Hog Watch and the former executive director of the Winnipeg Humane Society. "Any barn holding live animals should have appropriate fire prevention measures."
Thursday's fire was reportedly burning for several hours before the fire department was notified and able to respond. Because it was built before a new building code was introduced in 2011, the barn didn't have an active fire alarm system, fire extinguishers or fire-rated walls. With proper preventative measures, Burns thinks the situation could have been avoided.
For Burns and her Hog Watch colleague, Janine Gibson, it's an issue of animal rights.
"If this were happening at dog shelters, people wouldn't tolerate it," Burns said.
According to statistics provided by the province, 64,063 Manitoba hogs have been killed in barn fires since 2007, an average of nearly 3,800 per year. In 2008 alone, 30,569 burned to death.
Because the barns that have burned are generally family-run, Gibson thinks the lack of regulatory requirements will ignore the fires' impact on farmers and local fire departments.
"The animals suffer the most horrifically, but the people suffer too," Burns agreed
Hanover fire chief Paul Wiebe said 45 firefighters responded to the fire and prevented the blaze from spreading to the three other hog-filled barns on the property. When they arrived, it was clear there wouldn't be any surviving animals.
"Any time you go into a barn like that, you know there's nothing you can do to change it," Wiebe said Monday. "We do what we can to save any human and animal, but we have to be safe in doing that. Whether it's humans, animals, one dog or 3,500 hogs, we respond the same."
Wiebe said the hogs in the fire likely didn't burn to death, but rather suffocated from smoke inhalation long before.
"It's obviously tragic," he said. "I know the farmer is devastated by it."
A statement provided on Monday by the province said the adopted changes to farm building requirements are based on standards that align with the National Farm Building Code of Canada, a common standard with other jurisdictions.
When the intention to change the regulation was announced in January, Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler said the old code had "unnecessary regulatory requirements."
"Our government is listening to Manitoba's farm families and other stakeolders, who have clearly shown how the current code for farm buildings is impractical and costly," Eichler said.
But with damages to the farm near New Bothwell estimated at $2.53 million, and with 3,500 hogs dead, Burns and Gibson believe the costs of fire prevention are clearly justified.
"I think a lot of people find what happened horrific, but they may not understand that it does not have to be this way," Burns said.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.