By Connor Lynch
ST. CATHARINES — A Niagara Region flower farm is in recovery mode and planning for a rebuild, after a devastating fire tore through their facilities last month, dealing $40 million in damages. (See photo on page 29).
The blaze that broke out on Pioneer Flower Farms at St. Catharines on Aug. 16 carved a path right through a long line of greenhouses. The fire destroyed about seven million delicate flower bulbs and about 700,000 sq. ft,. (or 70 per cent) of the entire series of interconnected greenhouses and buildings. Five buildings that were being used to house about 20 migrant workers were also destroyed. No one was injured.
St. Catharines deputy fire chief Dave Upper said the fire was the biggest he’s ever fought in his 28 year career. Not only sheer area (it’s a 25-acre property), but with so much fuel inside and around the property (piles of peat moss on the property caught fire, as did some nearby bushland).
The cause is undetermined, largely due to the sheer size and intensity of the fire but also because firefighters had to bring in heavy equipment to tear apart buildings to keep the fire under control. As of Sept. 3, Kristen Sikking, whose family owns and operates the farm and warehouse, said the work was ongoing just cleaning up the site. “We’re not even halfway through, ” she told Farmers Forum.
Her father-in-law, Henk Sikking senior, lives on the property, and she lives across the road with her husband Henk junior. None of the Sikkings were on the farm at the time of the fire: They were at a party about a kilometre away.
“We were celebrating our contractor’s 40th anniversary, who is now cleaning our property,” she said.
The Sikkings had about 80 migrant workers on site as of Sept. 9, but only about 20 or so were living in the buildings that were destroyed. They have sufficient room elsewhere on the property to house everybody, she said.
Two nearby operations were helping out, providing space for the farm to process and package plants, she said.
With the greenhouse decimated, they’ve been focusing on their outdoor sunflower operation, she said. They were harvesting as many as 50,000 stems of sunflowers per day. The farm had insurance, but not nearly enough to cover what they lost, she said.
With nowhere to go but forward, Sikking said they’re trying to stay focused on the rebuild and next year’s crop. “Luckily, we have enough outdoor crop to keep us busy until we can start building again,” and she said the township has told them their building permits will be at “the top of the pile.”
A gofundme page was started to help out the migrant workers, many of whom lost possessions in the fire. As of Sept. 5, the fund was at $9,422 of its $10,000 goal.
$40-million fire destroys 700,000 sq. ft. of greenhouses, five migrant workers buildings
By Connor Lynch