By Connor Lynch
MALAHIDE TOWNSHIP — A massive blaze in Malahide Township in Elgin County, destroyed a 600-ft. long barn, causing $3 million in damage and casting a red glow visible 10 km away at Aylmer.
The barn went up in flames at 11 p.m. on Oct. 11. At its peak, 45 firefighters from the township, alongside 8 from neighbouring towns, battled the blaze with eight tankers, four borrowed to maintain a continuous water supply.
Director of fire and emergency services for Malahide, Brent Smith, said that the barn was about a third filled with hay bales, about 4,000 large round bales, feeding the fire and making it very difficult to put out. Three excavators tore apart the barn to let firefighters get at the hay and soak it.
But the immediate concern when firefighters arrived that night was keeping the fire confined. The farm had grain bins relatively nearby, but the major concern was a 300-acre field of dry corn not 50 ft. from the burning barn. Flames were licking at it, and homes are scattered at various edges of the field.
Farm owner Matt Verbeeg combined around the flames, clearing a U-shaped, 60 ft. firebreak where firefighters could set up. The heat and smoke were too much for firefighters to stick around in, but they set up fire monitors to track the heat. When it got too hot, the monitors, which were hooked up to the water supply, would mist the crop to keep it from combusting, Smith said.
One neighbour, who declined to be identified, said that he could still smell the fire 19 days later. “It was a huge, huge fire. Three days of just running, nonstop, for water right down past our place.”
Smith added that the barn was insured, but the cause was unknown. It was a new barn as well, built less than two years ago, he said.
Not only is Verbeeg a cash crop farmer, said Smith, but he sells a lot of hay to the U.S., and all the hay inside the barn was contracted to U.S. buyers.
Verbeeg declined to comment when contacted by Farmers Forum.