BERLIN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — An Ionia County barn fire that killed a quarter of a million hens is raising national concern about animal welfare.
The Animal Welfare Institute told 24 Hour News 8 Wednesday that the previous day’s fire at Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch south of Ionia is the fourth largest barn fire in the U.S. since it started keeping records (PDF) in 2013.
Dena Jones, AWI’s director of farm animal programs, said that Herbruck’s history of fires is concerning.
“I think they’ve had two or three fires just within the last year or so. That suggests to me there might be an issue there,” Jones said over the phone.
The Tuesday fire started around 6:15 p.m. Flames and a huge pillar of smoke were the only thing escaping the barn full of hens. Some 250,000 birds died.
“There’s millions of birds confined in these huge warehouses with no access to the outdoors for the birds,” Jones told 24 Hour News 8.
The AWI director explained that Herbruck’s operation near M-66 and Portland Road has long been on the national group’s radar due to past fires that killed hundreds of thousands of hens.
“We don’t think places like Herbruck’s should be allowed to house so many animals in such large numbers that they’re not able to properly care for them in case of emergency, and this is a perfect example of that,” Jones added.
Herbruck’s officials declined 24 Hour News 8’s requests for interviews and did not allow camera crews on the property Wednesday. A glimpse of the charred damage was visible from M-66.
Jones believes Herbruck’s managers need to be more aggressive about fire prevention.
“I don’t know if their maintenance people are not getting properly trained or they’re not getting proper routine fire inspections, but I would think an operation that large would have somebody assigned to fire prevention,” she said.
Herbruck’s supplies fast food giant McDonald’s with most of its breakfast eggs in the Michigan area and along the East Coast. Company officials released a statement claiming Tuesday’s fire won’t impact service, but Jones says it should.
“Disaster planning (and) emergency response, this is one component of animal welfare,” she said, “and large number of animals like this shouldn’t be raised under conditions where they can die so easily in a large fire. And I think anybody that consumes Herbruck’s eggs should consider that when they’re making their next purchase.”
The Berlin-Orange Fire Department chief told 24 Hour News 8 that fire crews did visit the barn to investigate, but most of the investigation will take place over the weekend. He explained that it’s unclear if a fire marshal will investigate.
AWI reports that more than 2.7 million U.S. farm animals died in preventable barn fires between 2013 and 2017.
>>App users: Photos from the fire