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Arson is ruled out in farm fire

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BLUE MOUNTAIN, Iron County — Arson has been ruled out as the cause of Sunday's devastating fire that destroyed a Circle Four Farms sow farm, killing all 12,000 pigs housed there, an area fire chief said Monday.

"The fire began in the center of the gestation barn, in the middle of a corridor," said Les Whitney, Beaver County district fire chief. "There's a lot of (electrical) components there that could start a fire. We've ruled out arson. It was totally accidental."

State fire investigator Jim Dudzinski toured the Blue Mountain Circle Four fire site Monday with Whitney, Cedar City Fire Chief Clint Neilsen and company executives. The group also plans to meet Tuesday with company insurance representatives.

The fire, reported about 5:30 p.m. Sunday by a security guard on his way to work, had already consumed two of the farm's three buildings by the time firefighters arrived. The Blue Mountain complex is in a remote desert area nearly 33 miles from Milford and Cedar City.

Whitney, who also works at Circle Four as a purchasing supervisor, said Neilsen agreed arson was not suspected in the blaze that turned the $4 million farm to rubble.

The loss of the sow farm, Iron County clerk David Yardley said, will make an impact in the county's tax coffers as well.

"It will have a significant tax impact next year," Yardley said. Last year Circle Four paid $66,000 in property taxes to Iron County. "That's a hefty chunk of change," he said.

Local farmers, who are encouraged to grow feed specifically for the hog operation, won't be as affected by the loss, farmer ElRoy Stucki of Beaver said.

"They (Circle Four) are really good and go over backwards to buy from local farmers," said Stucki, who grows alfalfa on land in Parowan valley. "They'll buy all the grain you can grow but there's no money in it right now. The price is too low."

The fire demolished three buildings used to breed and house 6,500 sows and their 5,500 offspring. Whitney said he believed many of the pigs died from carbon monoxide poisoning because of the position in which their carcasses were found. Most were lying on the ground while some were obviously scrambling to get over the pens and away from the fire, he said.

"There weren't many you could say were fried alive," said Whitney, adding this is the biggest fire he has responded to in his 24 years as a fire fighter.

Although units from Milford, Beaver, Minersville, Beryl, Newcastle and Cedar City rushed to the fire, the blaze was too far along to save any of the animals, Whitney said.

"We did everything we could to stop that fire, but I knew there was going to be nothing we could do. Those buildings are all naturally ventilated and the fire was traveling fast," he said.

Four 1,500-gallon propane tanks located about 30 feet from the buildings posed a more serious threat to fire fighters.

"When I seen the potential danger that could occur I ordered everyone to git and everybody skeedaddled," Whitney said, adding Neilsen stayed behind to help assess the situation.

Everyone within a 3-mile radius of the blaze was evacuated including emergency personnel and Circle Four employees. Those left behind kept the propane tanks cool by spraying them with water while fires burning nearby in the office areas and breeding building were extinguished, Whitney said.

A press release, issued Monday evening by Circle Four Farms, stated the cause of the fire is still unknown and that cleanup efforts have begun at the sow farm. All 20 employees who worked at the farm were reassigned to other company facilities.

Two years ago a propane tank accidentally sparked a fire at the Blue Mountain sow farm but was quickly contained, causing no damage, Whitney said. The only other serious accident at a Circle Four facility occurred in 1998 when an employee was electrocuted while cleaning a finishing barn used to house mature pigs.


E-MAIL: nperkins@redrock.net