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    Farmhand risks life as 2500 pigs perish in shed inferno

    Fri 19 Jun 2015 by Christine Speelman (Sydney Morning Herald)

    This article relates to the following facility: Wonga Piggery (Aussie Pigs)

    Firefighters battle a blaze at Wonga Piggery, in which about 2500 animals died.

    Firefighters battle a blaze at Wonga Piggery, in which about 2500 animals died. Photo: Christine Speelman

     

    About 2500 pigs have been killed after a fire broke out in a shed in south-western NSW on Wednesday.

    The fire, believed to have been started by an electrical fault, destroyed about 70 per cent of the 120-metre shed in which the pigs were housed.

    A farmhand who came across the blaze at the Wonga Piggery in Moppity Road risked his life to save another 1500 animals.

    He managed to save the pigs by prising open a door of the shed against the heat.

    The blaze took rural fire brigades more than an hour to bring under control.

    The massive loss of livestock follows the deaths of 500 pigs at a piggery in Grong Grong in February, when an air-conditioning system in the shed in which they were housed broke down.

    The farmhand's heroism has been praised but the farm's staff and owners remain devastated by the scale of the loss of livestock.

    "Staff are absolutely shattered by the loss of life of the animals they care for," Australian Pork spokeswoman Emily Mackintosh said.

    "You've got a group of people passionate about raising pigs and so dedicated to their jobs and the animal and something unforeseen happens.

    "It's an absolute tragedy."

    Ms Mackintosh said piggery staff spent most of Wednesday ensuring the fire didn't spread throughout the facility, focusing on the safety of the surviving pigs and mopping up.

    "The EPA doesn't allow them to dispose of the carcasses on site so they will be transporting them to a landfill about an hour out of Young," she said.

    A vet and a biosecurity officer attended the scene of the fire and euthanised 33 injured pigs.

    "Unfortunately, at this stage, it hasn't been confirmed but we're looking at around 2500 pigs lost," Riverina Local Land Services biosecurity and emergency services manager Ray Willis said.

    He said that land services staff left the property at 11am and were awaiting clearance from police forensic investigators to return to help with the clean-up.

    "We'll also provide advice on the appropriate disposal and reducing the disease risk of the carcasses," Mr Willis said.

    "I haven't spoken to [the owners] but I would say they're quite distressed."

    Young police Inspector Ashley Holmes said there was nothing to indicate the fire was suspicious.

    "It seems more likely it was a heating fault," Inspector Holmes said.

    Australian Pork is working with the piggery management to provide counselling.

    "Staff are first focusing on what is at hand, then moving forward, averting anything like this from happening again," Ms Mackintosh said.

    "[The owners] are really overwhelmed by the support and condolences they've received."

    The MP for the area and former NSW primary industries minister Katrina Hodgkinson - who has had many dealings with the Wonga Piggery owners - said she was devastated to learn of the loss and passed on her deepest condolences.

    Elise Burgess, spokeswoman for animal protection institute Voiceless, said: "This is a tragic event, which represents an unacceptable failure to ensure animal welfare and shows a clear lack of duty of care.

    "It is heartbreaking to imagine the pain and fear these animals would have felt before they burnt to death.

    "On factory farms, it is standard practice to lock thousands of sentient creatures in barns without adequate monitoring systems.

    "These housing conditions meant that, when fire broke out, thousands of pigs were trapped and were unable to escape a painful death. This incident proves once again that these brutal confinement systems have no place in Australian farming."