Fire departments from at least eight different communities converged on the site of a hog confinement facility in northern Rock County Sunday night.
Crews arrived around 9:30 p.m. to find one of the barns nearly engulfed in flames, fanned by a stiff northwest wind.
“It appears to be a total loss,” said Bob Taubert, managing partner of New Horizon Farms. The farm lost approximately 3,700 sows and many piglets.
By 1 a.m. Monday, a second barn had started on fire, and its proximity to a nearby propane tank posed risk for explosion, forcing fire crews to evacuate.
Roads were barricaded to keep motorists at a safe distance, and residents in the immediate area were advised to temporarily leave their homes.
It’s not known how full the 10,000-gallon propane tank was, but it did not explode. Rather, the propane supply burned off slowly as emergency valves released pressure.
Bitterly cold conditions complicated firefighting efforts, with temperatures dipping to 18 below and wind chills at 40 below at the time of the fire.
Water pumper trucks and water equipment froze up, making it difficult to keep adequate water flow to extinguish the blaze.
The New Horizon hog confinement site is located at 90th Avenue and 221st Street three miles south of the county line and three miles east of County Road 6.
It’s one of five New Horizon hog farrowing facilities in southwest Minnesota and represents 20 percent of New Horizon Farms total hog production.
According to company spokesperson Steve Perkins, local hog supplies are already tight due to high feed costs.
“There will be more demand for weaned pigs,” Perkins said. “And Bob (Taubert) will looking to buy some weaned pigs.”
The farrowing-to-market time frame for pork supply is 26 weeks, Perkins said, so this loss will disrupt the flow among area finishing facilities.
“Six months from now we should be back to where we were,” he said.
Ten employees worked at the farm and New Horizon is working to reassign those employees during the rebuilding process.
The glow from Sunday night’s fire could be seen from miles around.
“These are really big buildings,” Perkins said about the county line site.
“It’s a bio-secure facility where employees shower in and shower out. It’s very clean for the birthing process, much like a hospital delivery room.”
The gestation barn and farrowing barn are 60 feet wide and roughly 750 feet long and are nearly 80 feet apart from each other with a connecting hallway between them.
A generator is between them and an office building is nearby.
Perkins said the Minnesota Fire Marshal has been on site, and it’s not likely there’s been a risk to the environment.
“The underground manure pits were pumped in the fall, so they weren’t full,” Perkins said. “And the animals will be properly disposed of.”
Perkins said the multi-million dollar loss is insured, but it will take awhile to rebuild.
“The tragedy of it is it’s hard to do any construction right now,” he said. “It’s a horribly difficult situation, but fortunately nobody got hurt. Losing the animals was tragic enough.”
Taubert echoed those sentiments in a statement released Monday.
“I want to thank the fire departments for their good work,” he said. “It was just an impossible night and we appreciate their efforts to fight the fire.”
No one was at the facility at the time the fire started.
The Rock County Ambulance was on call at the scene, but it’s unknown whether anyone was hurt in the incident.
Fire departments responding to the call included Jasper, Hardwick, Edgerton, Pipestone, Luverne, Hills, Beaver Creek and Garretson.
The Rock County Sheriff’s Office and Minnesota State Patrol also provided assistance.
The cause of the fire was unknown as of Monday afternoon.