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Fire claims 12,000 hogs

No one hurt; damage at Utah complex exceeds $4 million

SHARE Fire claims 12,000 hogs

BLUE MOUNTAIN, Iron County — A blazing fire discovered at a remote hog farm here killed all 12,000 animals housed inside the complex and caused more than $4 million in damage, a Circle Four Farms company executive said late Sunday.

"This is catastrophic," said Circle Four spokesman Brian Mauldwin of the fire that swept through one of the company's sow farms. "It's devastating. Absolutely awful. Thank goodness all the employees had gone home and no one was hurt."

The fast-moving fire was reported about 5:30 p.m. Sunday by a company security officer who used a cell phone to call for help. At the time, two of the farm's three buildings were going up in flames. By 6:30 p.m., Mauldwin said, there was little left of the farm and its three housing areas that are connected to each other through a series of hallways.

The Blue Mountain Circle Four hog farm is 33 miles from Cedar City and Milford in a remote stretch of desert — about 200 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.

"We lost all the animals; the entire farm. It's just rubble . . . Over 10 percent of our total business was lost in one fell swoop," Mauldwin said, noting 6,500 mature animals and at least 5,500 of their babies burned to death.

The Utah fire marshal will arrive Monday to begin an investigation into what caused the fire.

"I wouldn't want to speculate (on the cause of the fire)," Mauldwin said. "We've never had a fire break out like that before."

Fire crews from Cedar City, Milford, Minersville, Beaver and New Castle responded to the scene with water tankers and other equipment. Crews remained throughout the night to monitor hot spots.

"This will probably take us a year to recover from," Mauldwin said, adding out of the 54 hog farms owned by Circle Four only 13 are dedicated to the needs of reproducing sows. Five of those sow farms are located in Iron County with the rest situated in Beaver County.

The loss is astronomical to the company in a number of ways, Mauldwin said.

"This will put a gaping hole in our production. You don't just go down to the store and say you want 5,000 mama pigs," he said, noting a sow is capable of being bred to produce 10 to 12 piglets at least twice a year.

"We're still regrouping and figuring out what we need to do with our employees, what we need to do to clean up, rebuild and repopulate the farm," Mauldwin said. "Since this has just happened, we're still in the assessment phase of this tragedy. We need to get our management team together and figure out where we're at, where we're going and what we need to do to move forward."

The financial impact is staggering as well with the loss of Sunday's livestock valued at $1 million and the buildings at $3.3 million, Mauldwin said.

Utah Farm Bureau spokeswoman Jennifer Dahl said the bureau awaited more information before making any assessment of the Circle Four fire.

"We have heard that the fire looks suspicious, so we're concerned about that," Dahl said. "Like everyone else, we're waiting to see what the authorities determine. But it is a tragedy that so many livestock were killed."

Dahl hesitated to say whether the Circle Four incident ranked among the state's largest agricultural fires. "But it certainly sounds significant," she said.

Circle Four's Blue Mountain site employs 20 people and has been open for a couple of years. The sow barns have a concrete floor, wood frame, metal roof and heating and cooling system. There are no fire sprinklers in the buildings or fire hydrants in the area, Mauldwin said.

Circle Four Farms is owned by Smithfield Foods, the world's largest hog producer. According to their Web site, Smithfield Foods owns a combined total of 700,000 sows capable of producing 12 million hogs annually.

Contributing: Jenifer Nii

E-MAIL: nperkins@redrock.net