By Connor Lynch
WELLINGTON NORTH — Before he had even gotten the call, the fire was raging out of control.
Wellington North Fire Chief Dave Guilbault could see flames and smoke long before he got there. Flames and smoke were clearly visible from the fire station at Mt. Forest, which stands well above the surrounding area. Firefighters arrived at the farm in the municipality of Wellington North, an hour north of Kitchener, just before 2 p.m. on Nov. 6 and set about keeping the blaze from consuming the family home. Eyewitness Greg Dineen said that by about 1:45 p.m., the blaze was thick enough to shroud the roadway in a 200-foot wide plume of smoke 2,000 feet south of the barn.
It was a battle just to keep the blaze contained, Guilbault said, as firefighters contended with fierce wind gusts up to 80 km/h.
The fire completely destroyed farmer Adam Ghent’s barn and the 392 animals within, including a herd of 250 milking goats, 100 of their young, two horses and about 40 rabbits. The home was saved, as was a tractor trailer not 20 feet away from the flaming barn. It came away damaged by soot and smoked, but saved.
After about eight-and-a-half hours of fighting the fire, it was finally under control. The metal roof of the barn had collapsed, trapping burning hay and straw underneath it, and firefighters had to stick around to be sure no embers escaped, said Guilbault.
The farm had only installed milking equipment for the goats two years ago. But the loss of animals was especially hard for the firefighters to take, he said. “Most of us have farm property and animals. It really hurts. It’s something we don’t deal with well.”
Total damage was estimated at $1.5 million, and the fire did too much damage to leave a clear cause, Guilbault said.
A number of suspicious fires in the area in 2016-2017 culminated in an arrest late last year. Justin Beal was charged with seven counts of arson in January of this year.
There have been multiple fires — many were horse barns — in Wellington County this year.