By Connor Lynch
Ontario had more barn fires in 2017 than in any year since 2011.
That’s according to the most recent information from the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office, which is always one year behind in its statistical calculations.
In 2017, there were 165 barn fires in Ontario. There were 186 barns fires in 2011. The blazes are getting costlier. In 2017, barn fires cost Ontario farmers $36.4 million, over a million dollars more than in 2011, even though there were 21 fewer barn fires.
Barn fires increased in 2017, well up from the 142 fires in 2016. But 2017 was not the worst year for costs due to damages. The worst year in recent history was 2015 when 159 barn fires caused a staggering $48 million in damages.
Most barn fires spared livestock, though by a scant margin. About 53 per cent of 2017’s barn fires hit barns that contained equipment or produce. Despite having fewer fires, livestock barns were costlier fires, dealing $225,758 in damages on average, compared to $215,473 on average for non-livestock barns.
Firefighters or investigators couldn’t find a definitive cause for nearly half of barn fires in 2017; about 45 per cent of fires were listed as undetermined. The single largest known cause was a mechanical or electrical failure, which was the culprit for 24 per cent of fires. About 5.5 per cent of fires — about eight incidents — were arsons.
One barn fire in 2017 also cost a life. St-Eugene farmer Bertrand Villeneuve was found dead after flames engulfed his large machine shop on the family farm at East Hawkesbury in Prescott-Russell on March 7.
Ottawa-area dairy farmer Peter Ruiter’s barn burned that year as well. The Sept. 8 fire destroyed 80 of Ruiter’s 97 cows, causing over $1 million in damage. Ruiter recently finished rebuilding his barn.