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Work continues on Man. barn fire code

Manitoba’s fire commissioner is continuing work toward an updated fire code that will encompass hog barns, after a near-record year for hogs lost to fires.

Provincial fire commissioner Doug Popowich told the Manitoba Co-operator in July that his office would recommend the government issue a consultation paper on building and fire safety codes for farm buildings.

Such a consultation paper could go out over this winter if the province agreed to it, Popowich told the Co-operator’s Ron Friesen.

Barns and other farm outbuildings were exempted when Manitoba’s current codes were updated in the 1970s. Farm houses and garages must be built according to code, but barns and other exempted structures aren’t required to have fire safety equipment such as smoke detectors or sprinkler systems.

The Winnipeg Free Press quoted Popowich Friday as saying a code for hog barns will be in place by the end of 2009.

Media coverage focused again on the lack of a fire code for barns this week after a Dec. 30 fire near the southeastern community of Hadashville, about 75 km east of Steinbach. About 900 weanlings were reported to have died in the fire, with total damages estimated at about $500,000.

Popowich’s office told media the Hadashville fire was accidentally sparked by welding equipment in use during renovations in the barn.

The Dec. 30 fire brings the total hog losses in Manitoba for 2008 to over 30,500 in a total of seven hog barn fires, with total estimated damages at over $26.3 million.

Other major hog barn fires in Manitoba in 2008 included a blaze near Sarto in May that killed an estimated 15,000 hogs, a barn fire at the Netley Hutterite Colony in April killing 8,700 animals in April, and a June fire near Zhoda that killed about 6,500 sows and weanlings.

The number of hog barn fires isn’t unusual for Manitoba in recent years, but the number of hogs lost is well above the annual average of about 3,400 since 2002. The Free Press said Manitoba hog producers lost over 38,000 hogs in nine fires in 1999.

Manitoba Pork Council general manager Andrew Dickson told the Free Press Friday that fires in newer barns with larger capacities are likely to affect many more animals.

In an unrelated incident, a farmer in Manitoba’s southwestern Rural Municipality of Elton lost seven cattle and some farm equipment when a barn was destroyed by fire the morning of Dec. 31.

Brandon RCMP — who along with city firefighters from Brandon responded to the blaze — said in a release Wednesday that the Elton fire is under investigation but “is not being treated as suspicious.”

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