Originally published December 5, 2019 on The Western Producer
By Maria Johnson (Freelance Writer)
PONOKA, Alta. — A sheet of ice covered the parking lot and yard site of the charred remains of Family Meats Ltd. in Ponoka earlier this week, and an insurance adjuster arrived Tuesday to start the investigation.
The ice formed from the run-off of thousands of gallons of water sprayed to extinguish a fire that destroyed the slaughterhouse Dec. 1.
Fire Chief Dennis Jones of Ponoka County Regional Fire Services said the emergency call came in at 8:55 p.m. that evening. Firefighers running two engines and a command truck were dispatched and arrived on site within minutes. A third engine followed.
“The 911 caller had reported that there was already thick black smoke pushing out of the vents,” said Jones.
“When it’s forcing its way out like that, it’s an indication that the fire is well underway.”
Seventeen firefighters battled the blaze throughout the night. One firefighter was taken to hospital due to exhaustion and possible smoke inhalation and later released.
The fire was considered under control at about six a.m. Monday, after which time most of the firefighters left, many of them unpaid volunteers who went on to put in a day’s work at their regular jobs. Jones and another firefighter remained on site to monitor and douse remaining hot spots.
He said the fire was difficult to extinguish. Numerous renovations and additions making up the 8,500 sq. foot facility as well as several layers of roofing materials — some asphalt and some tin — contributed to the complexity of the job. A large amount of lard and bacon fat on site added fuel to the fire. Further challenges included the heat- induced popping of .22 calibre bullets, which are used to kill animals at the plant.
One hundred hogs that had been delivered to Family Meats Ltd. on Sunday morning and housed in an area attached to the building but separate from the fire were eventually removed unharmed.
“We maintained a fire wall between the two areas,” Jones said.
Firefighters ensured the hogs received adequate ventilation, he added.
No employees were in the building when the fire broke out.
Family Meats 2011 Ltd. was founded by two Ponoka families and served central Alberta with locally raised and produced beef, pork and lamb.
The processing plant in Ponoka housed a kill floor, abattoir, smoke house and retail area. It was a provincially inspected halal-certified plant.
The company also has two storefronts — one at another location in Ponoka and one in Airdrie, Alta.