Melissa Foley and her husband spent years building their Edmonton-area animal sanctuary, only to watch it burn to the ground in mere minutes — taking the lives of dozens of animals with it.
“In 13 minutes, we lost our family and the building we poured our heart and soul into,” Foley said in a three-page letter to supporters that documents what happened that April night.
“We lost more than just a barn. We lost our children. We lost our memories. We lost our dream.”
On April 11, the barn at Farm Animal Rescue and Rehoming Movement (FARRM) near Wetaskiwin burnt to the ground in what investigators confirmed was an electrical fire.
One of the heat lamps fastened to the rafters exploded. The owners said they, along with the fire investigators, can only guess that at that point the hot glass combined with fresh dry straw ignited the barn. They don’t know if it was a defect, power surge, or something else that caused the lamp to break.
“The fire started by the main door in our old goat Annabelle’s pen, making it nearly impossible for any of the animals in the centre of the barn to escape.
“They were snuggled up in their houses as always, and that’s where they were when we later removed their bodies from the rubble.”
The letter posted on FARRM’s website detailed how the Foleys poured all of their resources into building the sanctuary, which takes in surrendered and abandoned farm animals and offers care and space for them.
“We never spent a penny on labour and instead poured our heart and soul into building it year after year.”
On the night of the fire, Foley said she and her husband had just come inside to make dinner and had no idea their barn was on fire until a neighbour ran up and started banging on the door. Foley said what ensued was a panic.
“My husband and I ran towards the barn in every direction we could, burning our hands trying to get through gates that were already too hot to touch. My husband burnt the ends of his shoes off trying to kick holes in walls where he knew houses were, and animals were likely to be,” she wrote.
Foley said they managed to get a lot of animals out, but some ran back into the barn because even though it was on fire and burning, “It had always been a safe place for them.”
“It was the most helpless feeling to see it all disappearing, crashing, exploding.”
Foley said she tried to run back inside the barn to free Daisy, a blind goat that gained countrywide fame when she went missing from the sanctuary in September 2017, but was physically stopped by the man who had first spotted the fire.
“It had not occurred to me that there was no hope of that happening.
“Instead, I was pinned to the ground, left to sob while reality started to set in. This is a night I wish I could forget.”
In total, more than 35 animals died in the fire: pot-bellied pigs and goats in their stalls, along with many cats living in the barn loft and rabbits living under the barn.
The animals that died included 21 cats, six pigs, five rabbits, and four goats.
“The flames were too hot and nobody could escape,” Foley said.
Even after the fire, she said surviving animals spent days searching for their siblings and parents, staring at the rubble of the barn, and were easily startled by noises.
The animals are living in horse shelters and makeshift lean-tos while the owners decide what to do next. The organization was also raising money for a temporary shelter to protect the cats from coyotes and foxes.
Foley said they are at a crossroads and won’t give up, but they need the public’s help.
“We have spent years providing a home for those in need, and now FARRM is in need of a home. Please help us.”
In late April, Second Chance Animal Rescue Society (SCARS) presented a $10,000 cheque to FARRM.
FARRM said more information regarding the future of FARRM would be released in the coming weeks.