The Stanley Bridge Centre is pleased to announce the launch of a new feature, What Happened Since, celebrating the resilience of Islanders in the face of terrible adversity such as a fire, natural disaster, illness or other life altering event.

Back from the flames
Breadalbane farmer recovers from loss of barn, hundreds of sheep in July blaze
Story and photos by Jim Brown

If everything goes according to plan by Christmas a new barn filled with hundreds of sheep could be erected on John MacLeod’s 500-acre Breadalbane farm to replace a barn and sheep lost in a devastating July 13 fire.

An aerial view of John MacLeod’s Breadalbane farm before the fire

On Friday, Sept 7 he was in Summerside to finalize the details of his insurance claim and a cheque for as much as $450,000 should in his hands within a week, clearing the way for rebuilding to begin.

John MacLeod, at his home on the Inkerman Road.

Less than two months ago as many as 275 sheep, including many young lambs, were killed in the blaze, which saw firefighters dispatched to the scene from the New London, New Glasgow and North River fire departments. But even then, on the day of the fire, Mr MacLeod, 61, considered himself a lucky man. He could have lost a lot more, perhaps his life and the life of a 12-year-old granddaughter, Jessie, who was helping him on the farm. Jessie is the daughter of his son, Adam MacLeod, who lives down the road. She is one of 11 grandchildren, all of whom live in or near the village of Breadalbane.

“Nobody got hurt (although) you feel sorry for the sheep…you’ve got to take it in stride,” said the Inkerman Road man. Twenty-eight sheep were rescued and are being billeted at his son’s place just down the road.

“I counted myself quite lucky, because just before that I was getting ready to go to the field to cut hay, but then thought I would go to see my granddaughter (who was in his house) and I just walked by the barn.”

It was also calm that day, which prevented the fire from spreading.

He recalls going into the house at around 11 am to get something to eat with Jessie.

Barely five minutes later he looked outside and saw smoke and then the building was consumed in flames even as he placed a frantic call to 911.

Jessie could easily have been in the barn during the fire because she’s always working there, he said. July is lambing season and they would have been both working except for the lunch break.

“I said ‘Jessie let’s eat’ and if only for that she could have been out in the barn.”

The house was less than 200 feet from the barn when it caught fire.

Firefighters used water from a pond in front of John MacLeod’s house to douse the fire and nearby property.

Mr MacLeod rushed out and moved a tractor and a neighbor raced over to help and the two of them entered the front of the barn, which was not as badly damaged at the moment, because the fire started in the back but there was so much smoke they left within seconds.

“We couldn’t see each other (because) of the smoke,” said Mr MacLeod.

Other than the sheep, everyone managed to escape including MacLeod’s one year old chocolate lab.

The barn didn’t have much of a chance, since there was hay and straw, which was very combustible, dooming efforts to save it.

MacLeod recalls bending his finger in the fire’s aftermath when a young grandson was distraught. He pointed to the finger’s downward crook, “It’s like a little bump in the road. We’re already over the bump and starting down the right side,” he recalled saying.

John MacLeod stands on cleared land where a barn and approximately 275 sheep were consumed by fire on July 3.

Mr MacLeod had been living on the family farm since he was two, and was married at 18 to his wife Donna, who passed away six years ago from cancer.

“What they think it started from was a fan in the back of the barn”, one of several used to keep the sheep cool in warm weather.

The sheep were mingled with the charred remains of the barn and could not be separated. They and the barn debris had to be hauled out at the same time.

Mr MacLeod said he was very grateful for the support he received from neighbors, friends and family members, as well as the tireless efforts of local firefighters.

His oldest grandchild, at 18, was attending a hockey school in Vermont when he learned of the fire and was determined to return home to be with his granddad.

Did he make it?

“No we talked him out of it…There was nothing he could do,” said Mr MacLeod.