Business as usual, as southern Alberta hay plant fire continues to smoulder

Crews have started clearing away twisted metal and debris at the Green Prairie International plant, while nearby firefighters continue to hose down hot spots among the ruined storage building.

“When this happens it’s kind of devastating,” said owner and company President John Van Hierden.

Lethbridge and Coaldale fire departments were called to the company location 10 kilometers east of Lethbridge shortly after 7 p.m. on Wednesday June 30.

The 58,000 sq. foot warehouse was already engulfed in flame, but fire crews, working with company employees, managed to keep the fire from spreading to neighbouring buildings.

Firefighting operations continued throughout Canada Day, and a crew was still on hand Friday, using an aerial ladder truck to extinguish hot spots on the west side of the collapsed building.

“Our primary concern is the wind is picking up a bit,” said Lethbridge Deputy Fire Chief Gerrit Sinke.

“As they’re tearing this building apart we want to make sure this fire doesn’t spread,” he added.

$5 MILLION DAMAGE

Early damage estimates are at approximately $5 million.  There were no injuries.

Van Hierden said despite the catastrophe, it is business as usual at the hay plant, which exports forage products around the world.

The company also supplies all major pet food outlets and retail stores.

According to Van Hierden the warehouse was used to store both raw and fished material, pet food products, plastics, boxes as well as a new pelleting equipment that was scheduled to go into operation in the next few months.

“A lot of sweat and tears and work we’ve put into it,” said Van Hierden.

He said they have a close work place community that has been working hard to get that new operation going.

“To see something like that go into flames is pretty tough on them.”

The plant employs about 130 people. Van Hierden said it is “awesome and humbling” to see how they have responded to the tragedy.

The cause and origin of the fire remains under investigation.

“Certainly the heat is one of the things we are taking into account,” said Sinke.

 “As far as trying to find evidence in an enormous pile of burnt up hay, that’s a difficult thing to do.”

Sinke said investigators have been able to speak with witnesses, and obtain access to “really good” security camera footage.

According to those who’ve seen the video, it shows only 30 seconds elapsed before the first wisp of smoke burst into full out flames.

Van Hierden said they are well aware of how extremely hot days increase the fire risk for everyone.

“It’s a tin roof with some skylights in there, and even a little reflection could have happened.”

Sinke said fire crews would be returning to Lethbridge Friday evening, but the company was arranging for a water truck to remain on the property to help manage the fire overnight.

“If there is a rekindle we can be back here in a moments notice.”