The auction mart in Pipestone was destroyed by fire on Monday evening, March 1. Pipestone Livestock Sales was a key service to livestock producers in southwest Manitoba, holding regular Friday cattle sales.
Under co-ownership of Rhett and Gene Parks and Brock Taylor the auction was a local employer, a pillar in the small town of Pipestone.
No lives were lost, nor livestock harmed, but the auction could not be saved. In a Facebook post Rhett Parks said, “I am thankful that no one was hurt, and that my brother Chad was able to get the cattle out of the market.”
The blaze started in the early evening. It was 6:30 p.m. when the fire call came to Pipestone fire department.
Chad Parks was at work at the auction yard unloading a feed semi for the cattle the Parks family kept there. He noticed the smoke.
Along with other cattle that were at the site, Chad was caring for 35 heifers that were close to calving. They were inside.
“I have a bunch of cows calving down here,” he said.
He found the kitchen area full of smoke and then headed around to the ring area which was also was full of smoke - so much smoke that he couldn’t actually see the flames but said, “I could hear the flames.”
That’s when he knew he had to move cattle. “I turned my attention to getting all the cattle out of the pens, back out into the south pasture. We got everything out.”
Outside, cattle had to be moved as well.
“We had a bunch in the feedlot pens… but I kicked one feedlot pen out, just to be on the safe side because I didn’t know if the flames were going to catch on to the windbreak fence or not.
“Everybody’s safe and sound and there’s no loss of cattle. It could have been much, much worse.”
The auction was closed for about five years when the oilfield industry was going strong and help was hard to come by for the cattle auction. However, in 2017, after a few renovations to the office and kitchen area, Pipestone Livestock Sales re-opened and has been going strong.
Brock Taylor said that between 300 and 1600 cattle per week went through the sales ring, depending upon the season. Taylor called the fire “devastating.”
According to Gene Parks, the auction began in 1958, the first one outside the city of Winnipeg.
Asked about the value of the loss, Taylor hesitated, and said it couldn’t be rebuilt for a million dollars.
On the morning after the fire, both Rhett and Chad expressed their personal sense of loss.
“It’s very sentimental. My brother and I remember running up and down the alleys here, when we were little kids,” said Chad. “The office staff, I remember Wanda Patmore, back in the day, as general manager here. She was like a second mum to me. That’s how much time we spent down here.”
The Parks family expressed appreciation for the community’s help.
“The fire department out of Reston, all those volunteer guys, hats off to them,” said Chad. “We can’t thank them enough for coming to do what they do, and,” he continued, with an edge to his voice, “You know the community and just the neighbours, you never had to ask for help. Everybody’s over here right away. Checking the fence where we kicked the cattle out, to make sure they’re not going to take off. Lots of people helping. I guess that’s what a community’s for. It doesn’t make it any easier, but it kind of does.”
Rhett said on Facebook, “Pipestone has been part of my life since I was about seven… when Dad and his partner Jim Martin opened the market in the fall of 1985.
“As a kid I didn’t have a lot of involvement, but spent each and every thanksgiving dinner at the market, and we would see a huge crowd of people come for the turkey lunch. I think back to all the good times, friends, great employees and business relationships that started through the market.”
FIGHTING THE BLAZE
This was a huge and hot fire to fight. Lane Wanless, Fire Chief of Pipestone-Albert Volunteer Fire Department said, “For the size of the area, this would be the biggest [structure] fire the department has dealt with.”
He called in Melita Fire Department for mutual aid, providing their tanker, pumper and manpower along with Pipestone’s equipment.
Wanless made plans as they travelled to the fire.
“On the way down, we were getting hold of the person taking care of the place to ensure there were no cattle in there and to get them removed.”
“We made sure there were no humans in there. We were defensive, right off the start. By the time we got there, the roof was engulfed and fire had come out through the middle section.”
The metal cladding made it more difficult to extinguish the blaze.
With a south wind on Monday evening, Wanless said, “There were a lot of live embers floating into town. We had two members watering down areas there until we got some water on [the main fire] and got it slowed down.
“If there was a bonus, it was the time of year. There was lots of snow on the ground… In September it would have been a different story,” he said, considering how dry it was last fall.
It took a lot of water to douse this blaze. “In rural areas, water is a key part.”
Manitoba Hydro had cut the power to the auction facility. That meant the Pipestone town well was without power right when the firefighters needed to refill their water pumpers.
Wanless said they called on an industry on the edge of Pipestone. Spearing Service Ltd. was able to supply extra water. He said the company has always been on the spot with help when called. He has them on speed dial.
It was a lesson learned, said the fire chief.
“We’re used to having the hydro. But, you’ve got to think about it. You don’t always have hydro, and then you’re not getting water out of the ground.”
As well as help from Spearing, pumper trucks hauled water from Reston and from a nearby rural well.
In total 22 firefighters worked for over seven hours to get the fire under control.
The owners of Pipestone Livestock Sales could not yet say whether they will rebuild the business.