Turkeys survive massive fire

Eric McCarthy
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[Fortune Cove, PEI]– More than 14 hours after the fire at Stephen and Ivan Wallace's dairy barns started, after more than 11,000 square feet of barn space had either been consumed by fire or were knocked over by heavy equipment, fire fighters carried seven young turkeys to safety.

Aftermath of the July 20 fire in Fortune Cove, Prince Edward Island.

The turkeys were housed in a small building in the "U" between the grain tanks and the main dairy barn (in Fortune Cove, Prince Edward Island). It was when a Hi-mack knocked down the rest of the little building, around 4 a.m. Saturday, (July 21) that the turkeys were spotted.

"They were still alive. They were still as white as anything," marvelled Alberton fire chief and fire scene commander Kenny Ramsay.

Firemen loaded the turkeys into a manure-spreader, added a water dish and lined their temporary quarters with hay and covered it with a sheet of plywood.

Firefighters started arriving at the Fortune Cove dairy farm shortly after 1:30 p.m. Friday (July 20) in what would become a marathon fire-fighting and rescue operation. In all, seven departments and between 70 and 90 fire fighters responded. The last trucks didn't leave the property until 6 a.m. Saturday and, after that, Alberton members were called back twice to douse flare-ups in sopping-wet hay bales.

"It was a unified effort on everybody's part which yielded, I think, good results, because we saved a lot of dollar value here," Ramsay said of the West Prince Mutual Aid response. "Without that, we would be in bad shape. It was a great effort and yielded good results."

He estimated close to a half-million gallons of water cooled the flames. The water shuttle was set up at the town pond in Alberton, resulting in a one-foot drop in the pond's water level. After two pumpers broke down the water shuttle was moved to the Dock pond using portable pumps. Tankers shuttled water to four pumpers set up around the perimeter of the fire.

The spectacular blaze, which is thought to have started in the hay barn, stacked with round bales six high, and spread to two of three connected buildings, could have been even more serious.

A barn filled with young cattle was directly behind the hay barn and the smoke was blowing right on it, Ramsay noted. While firefighters trained their hoses on that barn to keep it cool, farmers helped move cattle from that structure and into the manure-storage building behind it.

"It was very hot for the firefighters to be in there, but they managed it," he said.

They installed exhaust fans to protect the livestock from smoke. The fire also spared the farm house, a small storage building and, perhaps most remarkably, the milk house which was in the elbow between the interconnected dairy barn and the barn at the front of the property.

"I'm just amazed at what our volunteers do," said Bernece Wallace, Ivan Wallace's wife and Stephen's mother.

"We can never be thankful enough."

Mrs. Wallace said her son, who took over the operation of the farm from his parents two years ago, plans to rebuild. She said they are anxious to get started so that they can move their dairy cattle back home.

Around 4 p.m. Friday the dairy cattle made their way back towards the inferno that was once their barnyard. Then they lay down until farmers with trucks arrived and loaded them up.

Ivan's brother, Layton, retired from dairy farming just last year. His barn, located just across the road, was still equipped for milking, so they moved the (68-head) dairy herd there. Because there is no pasture around the barn, the dairy animals will have to remain indoors until a new barn is completed.

Bernece said there is no doubt about rebuilding.

"It has been Stephen's lifestyle since he graduated from Grade 12," she said of her 43-year-old son. "He just loves it."

During the course of the fire-fighting effort, two Alberton fire fighters – one late Friday afternoon and another early in the evening – were taken to hospital by Island EMS to be treated for heat exhaustion and dehydration.

"They ended up being fine," Ramsay reported. "They were treated and released."

The responding fire department's time on the scene would have been much lengthier, Ramsay suggested, if it were not for Preston Murphy's heavy equipment.

The machinery helped knock down the steel-clad buildings and root through hay bales so that firefighters could get at the flames.

Journal Pioneer

Organizations: West Prince Mutual Aid

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island

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