About 60 firefighters from five communities — the Steinbach, La Broquerie, Blumenort, New Bothwell and Ste. Anne fire departments — are all fighting the blaze at 36169 Clearsprings Rd., which was reported at 4:40 a.m. Monday.
Four connected farm buildings at Pennwood Dairy, northeast of Steinbach, were destroyed in the blaze and most of the animals are assumed to have died, said Jean-Claude Normandeau of La Broquerie Fire Department.
“The dairy barn represents approximately 2.5 per cent of the Manitoba milk production, so quite the severe impact,” Normandeau said.
A fire chief from Steinbach said it was “probably the largest barn fire” he has dealt with.
“We’ve had barn fires where we’ve lost one or two barns, but this is quite a sizeable loss,” Kelvin Toews said.
About 800 cows perished in the blaze, the Steinbach fire department said.
“There was probably about 1,000 animals in the barn at the time, and they were able to get 200 out,” Toews said.
The farm is one of the biggest milk producers in the province, Dairy Farmers of Manitoba said. An average dairy farm has 130 cows, the dairy farmers’ organization says.
The farm is about 50 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg, about five kilometres east of Highway 12.
The Steinbach fire chief said the barns are wood frame structures with tin covering the outside.
“What happens is the wood frame burns, the tin falls in and you’ve still got pancakes of stuff burning inside,” Toews said.
Most of the fire was out, he said shortly before noon, although firefighters were still tending to some hot spots and a smouldering pile of silage.
‘Cows just screaming’
Christina Braun, who lives on a neighbouring farm, said she wasn’t sure what was happening when she first heard the sirens.
“I go to open my door and I heard cows just screaming,” Braun said.
She could see flashing lights and a bright orange glow, as if the sun was setting over the tree line between her place and the neighbours’, she said.
“It sounded really close. I thought it was at my farm. Thank God it wasn’t, but it was my neighbours’.”
A server at the nearby Quarry Oaks Golf Course said roads in the area were blocked off as she drove to work around 6 a.m.
“On my way here, I saw fire trucks and I just saw a huge cloud of smoke,” Jaylene Stoesz said.
The golf course is a few kilometres away from the fire, Stoesz said.
The office of the fire commissioner is investigating the cause of the fire.