A firefighter waters down a pair of silos standing next to what remains of Fritz Zens’s barn at Tooth Acres Farm, west of Port Alberni, on July 16, 2020. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Cause of barn fire west of Port Alberni ‘undetermined’

Fire commissioner’s office investigated blaze where a firefighter also died

The cause of a fire that destroyed a hay barn at a farm west of Port Alberni on July 16, 2020 has not been determined. A volunteer firefighter working the fire also died of cardiac arrest.

Alberni Valley hobby farmer Dr. Fritz Zens lost his barn full of hay and farming equipment following the fire, which could be seen for kilometres away.

Fire departments from Port Alberni, Beaver Creek, Cherry Creek and Sproat Lake as well as multiple ambulances responded to the fire at Tooth Acres farm on McCoy Lake Road shortly after 7 p.m. on Thursday night. A BC Hydro crew was quickly on scene to cut power to the site. The barn, approximately 30 metres (100 feet) by 15 metres (50 feet), was full of hay that Zens and others had been cutting.

Everyone escaped the barn, Sproat Lake fire Chief Mike Cann said. He didn’t know if any livestock were involved, but a bystander said the cows that are usually on the property were out to pasture. A number of sheep could be seen in a field a few metres away from the barn fire.

“When I got into the barn there were flames everywhere,” said a farmhand who wished to remain anonymous. “I jumped into a tractor to try and get it out of there. By the time I got it in gear, the baler on the back of the tractor was on fire. So I jumped off and ran.

“I just feel so bad for Dr. Zens.”

“It’s a total loss,” Cann said. “It definitely was full of hay on this end. I don’t know yet what the rest of the building was. It was bigger than just the hay part.”

Sproat Lake VFD Lt. Ron Suits went into cardiac arrest as crews were attacking the fire. Suits did not survive.

Crews from all four departments tackled the fire overnight.

There are no fire hydrants in the area, so three tankers from Sproat Lake, one from Cherry Creek and an engine from Beaver Creek hauled water to the site and dumped it into a pair of porta-tanks.

Sproat Lake VFD was called out again Friday morning as the hay kicked up again. The farm owners got their sprinklers on it, and that extinguished the new fire.

A representative from the Office of the Fire Commissioner was at the scene on Friday to investigate. “The cause is undetermined,” Cann said. “The Office of the Fire Commissioner came up to do the investigation because of the substantial loss and the fatality.”

Port Alberni Fire Department provided a crew at the Sproat Lake hall until 8 a.m. Friday so SLVFD members could finish working the fire and process the loss of one of their fellow firefighters.

“We probably had 35 members from all four departments working that fire,” he said.



susie.quinn@albernivalleynews.com

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Cherry Creek Volunteer Fire Department Chief Lucas Banton pours water on a barn fire on McCoy Lake Road on July 16, 2020. Crews from four fire departments in the Alberni Valley worked through the night to extinguish the fire, which caught in a hay barn at Tooth Acres, owned by retired dentist Dr. Fritz Zens. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Fritz Zens, centre, and other family members stand to the side as the hay barn at their farm, Tooth Acres, burns on McCoy Lake Road, July 16, 2020. (SONJA DRINKWATER/Special to the AV News)

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