In the initial stages of an investigation into Tuesday’s hog farm facility fire in Wayne Township that killed approximately 5,000 swine, authorities said Wednesday they do not suspect foul play, the origin of the fire was likely the utility room, and the cause is still undetermined.
“Right now, everything is still under investigation and undetermined at this point,” said Kelly Stincer, public information officer with the State Fire Marshal’s Office. “However, our investigators can say that they do not suspect any foul play involved in this.”
Stincer said investigators would be returning soon to the scene, located at 7111 Old Route 35 Southeast. The Straathof Swine Farm facility was completely destroyed, authorities said.
Although the fire was under control shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday, steam and smoke will be emanating from the rubble for some time, according to the Wayne Township Fire Department.
Throughout the day Tuesday, firefighters from five counties battled the blaze, which was reported to the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office at 1:08 p.m. Tuesday. All units were cleared from the scene at 9:47 p.m.
The first crew to arrive at the scene consisted of four individuals from the Washington C.H. Fire Department, including fire chief Tom Youtz. Youtz suffered a hand injury as the crew approached the smoke and fire coming from the center of the facility, which was described as the utility room.
“My hand was pinched in a kink in the hose when they hit the pressure on the hose,” Youtz said Wednesday. “I just didn’t get my hand out of the way in time. It felt like it was broken, but at the hospital they said they didn’t think it was. It’s very swollen, but I’m going to be fine.”
Fayette County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Andy Bivens drove Youtz to Fayette County Memorial Hospital for treatment Tuesday.
Youtz added, “The panel boxes and the power come into that (utility) room. All indications were by the time we arrived was that’s where it started. Now why it started I have no idea. The State Fire Marshal’s Office will make that determination.”
Along with the Washington and Wayne Township fire departments, firefighters and resources were requested Tuesday from the Concord-Greene, Bloomingburg-Paint-Marion, Jefferson Township and Pic-A-Fay fire departments. As the fire continued to intensify, additional fire agencies and resources from Highland, Ross, Pickaway and Greene counties were requested to respond and assist with battling the fire and providing water tankers. The Fayette County Emergency Management Agency and Fayette County EMS also responded to the scene.
In November 2011, the Straathof Swine Farm was granted a permit by the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) to expand to a maximum capacity of 5,760 head of swine, according to documents provided by the ODA.
“The farm operated before that time underneath our permitting threshold so I don’t know specifically when it was built,” said Mark Bruce, ODA communications director. “They had a farm with less than 2,500 hogs prior to that time so they did not have to get a permit. When they wanted to grow to that 5,760 size, they had to get the permit and that permit was ultimately signed off on in November of 2011.”
A Permit to Operate (PTO) is issued by the Ohio Director of Agriculture to producers that wish to operate a “Concentrated Animal Feeding Facility (CAFF)” in Ohio, according to the ODA website. Its purpose is to help assure the proposed facility has developed appropriate best management plans in the areas of manure management, insect and rodent control, animal mortality and emergency response.
For construction or expansion of a CAFF, a producer must submit a Permit to Install and a Permit to Operate at the same time. Both permits were issued to Straathof Swine by the ODA. The person listed as the owner of the facility is Nico Straathof, of Washington C.H.
“There are basically two kinds of farms in Ohio and there are those farms that have to get permitted through the Division of Livestock Environmental Permitting because they meet a certain number,” Bruce said. “So if you have 2,500 hogs at one site, you need to get a permit. Obviously this farm was well above that so this was a permitted facility. Permitted facilities have a very long list of things they must do and must comply with. They have regular inspections and there are a lot of different parts to them. A facility of this size undergoes a thorough review before it’s built and then has regular inspections once it’s built.”
The last inspection that occurred at Straathof Swine was April 4. Bruce said the facility has not had any violations.
The next step for ODA is to ensure that environmental compliance is maintained during the clean-up of the facility.
“Once we are able to get in there, that means ensuring that remaining carcasses are disposed of in an environmental manner, as well as the proper disposal of the manure that is at the facility currently,” said Bruce. “Our guys are not on the grounds yet. Someone from our department will be on the grounds in the next couple of days to hopefully get in there and take a look.”
Also on Wednesday, many agencies, organizations and individuals expressed their sadness for both the hogs and those associated with the Straathof Swine farm. The Fayette Humane Society released the following statement to the Record-Herald:
“We are deeply saddened to hear that 5,000 pigs were killed by fire in a confinement facility in Fayette County on Tuesday. As long as pigs are packed into such facilities in large numbers with little thought to their emergency evacuation, these disasters will continue to happen. Was there a fire detector? Were there functioning sprinklers? We don’t know the answer to this, but we hope that this will be a wakeup call to both those who raise pigs in these type of facilities and those who regulate agricultural operations. Pigs, who are friendly and intelligent, must never be allowed to be confined in a way where they may suffer and die under such gruesome circumstances.”
On Facebook, the Wayne Township Fire Department thanked all of the first responders who came to the scene.
“Everyone did a phenomenal job assisting and doing what we all do best during a time of chaos,” reads the post. “We appreciated your response to our request and your professionalism on the scene, which made it for operations to be smooth and safe.”
Reach Ryan Carter at 740-313-0352 or on Twitter @rywica