Thousands of chickens die in fire

16:00, Jan 11 2013
Allan Marshall
LIVELIHOOD DESTROYED: Allan Marshall surveys the ruins of his egg farm. About 18,000 laying hens died when fire ripped through the property near Rolleston on Thursday.

About 18,000 chickens died in Thursday's wildfire near Rolleston.

The chickens were housed in three sheds on an egg farm in Selwyn Rd owned by Allan and Judy Marshall.

The couple had left earlier that day for a holiday at Gore Bay and had just arrived at their destination when news of the fire threatening their property reached them. They headed straight back, only to find their livelihood in ruins.

The 18,000 laying hens they farmed all perished in the fire.

It is believed they died from smoke inhalation before the flames ripped through the shed they were housed in. The shed was built three years ago to meet new animal welfare regulations.

Marshall, who has owned the farm for 20 years and employs five staff, said he had done everything in his power to prevent a fire in the business but there was nothing he could have done to stop yesterday's wildfire.


"It was the perfect storm. We are all out of jobs basically. If we can get back up and running, we will."

The business is insured, and other egg farmers have rallied around to help the Marshalls, offering them eggs so they can continue to supply their customers.

The offers of help have come from as far away as Dunedin.

The Marshalls' house escaped the flames.

In neighbouring properties, gallant efforts by locals, volunteers and SPCA Canterbury staff to save livestock and pets meant fewer casualties than feared.

SPCA Canterbury animal welfare manager Geoff Sutton said a total of about 200 sheep, cattle and horses were removed from at-risk properties, as well as about half a dozen pets.

Some of the animals were stressed and had been exposed to intense heat and smoke, but were otherwise unharmed, he said.

"It was a bit disorganised initially, but everyone knew what needed to be done and just got on with the job."


Staff at a Canterbury horse trainer's property had to drive past burning fences and through thick smoke to rescue spooked horses from Thursday's fire.

Staff and all 24 horses from Courtco Racing were safely removed from the Robinsons Rd property.

Foreman Annabel Pilson said that when she saw oncoming flames she called "everyone I knew" in the area with a float to try to get the horses to safety.

The smoke was so thick that Pilson could barely see a few metres in front of her as she scrambled to get the horses out of the barn.

Pilson drove the first load of horses off the property, past a burning gate post and fence.

When she returned to pick up the last four horses, police had cordoned off the street because the flames had engulfed the hedge along the property's driveway.

She was forced to wait outside for hours while staff inside protected the remaining horses.

"It was pretty scary from where I was on the road, watching the hedges on the front of our property go up in flames and knowing people were inside,"' she said.

Two of the horses were "tucked away" in a back paddock and the other two, including well-performed pacer Franco Emirate, were placed in the water walker.

A water walker is used to swim horses, many of which have issues with leg soreness, and takes the pressure of doing normal work off their legs.

"They were quite happy sitting in there. They probably had the best seat of the lot in a nice cool spot," Pilson said.

She believed the eight-hectare property was saved by the sand racing track.

"The fire was coming in from all angles and when it was running along the ground it was broken up by the tracks and wasn't getting much further than that," she said.

Courtco Racing owner Brian Court was in Australia for a funeral when he heard about the Prebbleton fire.

He boarded the first flight home and was escorted on to his charred property by police at 1am yesterday.

He found he had lost only a few pine trees and about 2000 bales of hay in the fire.

"We could see that we had been extremely fortunate. Basically, our place would have been toast without the monsoon buckets, staff and friends. Without them we wouldn't have had anything," Court said.

There were some "very valuable horses" on his property at the time, including some Hong-Kong owned thoroughbreds and two standardbred pacers, Franco Emirate and Raglan, which were being held at Courtco Racing for specialised treatment in the water walker.

His 24 horses had been "spread all over the show", but were retrieved yesterday.

Prebbleton is a rich horse-racing area, with several leading Canterbury and New Zealand thoroughbred and harness racing trainers based there. It also has two major breeding operations, the Nevele R Stud and Bromac Lodge.

Nevele R, New Zealand's biggest standardbred stud, confirmed that all its horses on the property were unharmed. At Bromac Lodge, reports were much the same, with staff and helpers working hard to get horses to safety.

The Press