Fire that killed thousands of pigs an accident, investigators say

A farm blaze that killed thousands of pigs in Northern Ireland was accidental, fire investigators have said.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service initially expressed concern the fire that potentially claimed as many as 4,300 animals may have been started deliberately, but tonight a spokesman for the service said it was now being treated as “accidental ignition”.

Investigations are continuing to identify the exact source of the devastating incident.

Carcasses of the sows and piglets were being removed from the farm near Bessbrook, Co Armagh, in a major clean-up operation throughout today.

The NIFRS has estimated that 800 sows and 3,500 piglets perished in what it described as an “intense” blaze. However, it is understood the owner of the property believes the death toll could be lower.

A significant number of pigs survived the fire in the early hours of Saturday, having been evacuated from the building as the flames took hold.

The NIFRS said three sheds were destroyed.

The expansive premises is at Derrywilligan Road around two miles from the village of Bessbrook – a rural area close to the Irish border.

Two days on from the blaze, an acrid smell was still detectable in the vicinity today.

A steady flow of trucks drove in and out of the farm ferrying away the carcasses for disposal.

Firefighters were called to the site at about 5.40am on Saturday, and it took crews seven hours to bring the situation under control.

Five fire appliances were called as well as water tankers and a hydraulic platform.

Stormont Assembly member Danny Kennedy, who lives a short distance from the farm, said he was shocked.

“This is a very distressing incident,” he said.

“Not only for the loss of this number of animals, but also the impact on this local business.”

Fellow Newry and Armagh MLA William Irwin said: “I know the farmer who operates this farm and this is certainly a terrible incident with the fire claiming a significant number of sows and piglets.

“Agriculture in general is under pressure with costs of production continuing to rise and a real price squeeze on farmers in the processing and retail end of the scale so to see this type of loss of animals and property is concerning and unfortunate for the producer concerned.”

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