Officials say the fire started at around 8:55 p.m. at the Family Meats Ltd. on 49 Street in the central Alberta town.
Ponoka Fire Chief Dennis Jones said that crews were fighting an active fire until around 6 a.m. Monday, but said just before 10 a.m. that they were still on scene monitoring hot spots.
There were 100 hogs in a back bay where livestock is stored before processing, but crews were able to get them all out safely.
“We’re still trying to take care of some lard and bacon fat and stuff that they’ve got in there — quite a few pounds of that,” said Dale Morrow with the Ponoka Fire Department. “ just trying to lay some foam on there and get that stuff dealt with so that it doesn’t go any further.”
Jent Hoekstra, manager and former owner of Family Meats Ltd., watched the business he built from the ground up burn to the ground.
“It’s hard to see because we’ve got the two facilities, but that’s kind of the engine behind the company right? That’s where we do our slaughter and here’s where it gets processed,” Hoekstra said.
“I got to the plant and we started opening up the barn to try and get air to the hogs that were in the back and try to see where the fire was actually growing, and it turned out it was up in the ceiling and we couldn’t access it in time to put it out.”
The timing couldn’t be worse for Family Meats since late fall is normally the busiest time of year for customers, including more than 100 businesses in Alberta that normally get meat from the butchery to their stores within 24 hours.
“It’s all up in the air. We don’t know what’s going to happen,” Hoekstra said.
Evan Shukin, who shot video of the fire as it happened, said many residents of Ponoka will be affected by the loss of the butchery.
“It’s pretty scary,” he said. “This doesn’t happen here a lot — anything like that. It’s a pretty quiet town. Something like this, it affects the whole community.
“There’s a lot of people employed there.”
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According to Jones, the layout of the building is “unique” and that was one of the reasons the fire took so long to contain. He said it was not only an older building, but had been rebuilt and expanded several times.
The slaughterhouse was destroyed.
Ponoka is about 90 kilometres south of Edmonton.
–With files from Global News’ Lisa MacGregor
— More to come…
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