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Over 165,000 laying hens die in massive fire at Hickman's Egg Farm in Tonopah

hickman's family farms fire photo 1.jpg
Posted at 3:41 PM, Mar 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-09 10:22:28-05

ARLINGTON, AZ — Fire crews from multiple agencies were called to battle a massive fire at a Hickman's Egg Farm between Buckeye and Tonopah on Saturday afternoon.

“Everybody was battling to try and save as many hens, keep our humans safe and stop the spread and stop the fire,” Sharman Hickman told ABC15. Two hen houses on the company’s farm — known as Arlington South — were destroyed and a third was damaged.

“We lost 165,000 birds that we desperately need,” Hickman said. “They’re our feathered co-workers and so we’re devastated by that loss.”

The official cause of the fire is still under investigation, but she said the fire may have been sparked by an equipment malfunction.

Hickman said the quick actions of employees, fire crews and sheriff’s deputies likely saved the lives of another million hens on the property, near 339th Avenue and Salome Highway.

Hickman’s is the largest egg producer in Arizona and supplies eggs to several grocery chains for their private-label brands.

Despite the loss, Sharman Hickman said there should be little if any impact to consumers ahead of the Easter holiday. The fire occurred on the smallest of the company’s four Valley-area farms.

“It’ll be harder work for a while on [the Arlington South farm] but we’re going to make it through and there will be no shortages,” she said.

According to the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), most hen house farm fires are in cage-free houses. Hickman's two-building destroyed housed cage-free hens. The AWI says this is because dust levels are higher in cage-free hen houses, and that of the fires reported, most are started by an electrical malfunction in the hen house.

"So when there is a spark, the severity of these fires is very much affected by these poor environmental conditions," said Dena Jones, AWI’s farm animal program director.

The AWI said Saturday's fire was the deadliest barn fire in Arizona since they began keeping track in 2013, and that there are no federal regulations for barns when it comes to fire safety.

"We would like to see some better fire prevention and suppression techniques. We’d love to see sprinklers for example," said Jones.

Hickman farm fire

In April 2019, a fire destroyed one building at Hickman's Family Farms in Tonopah that was under construction and about to receive its first batch of hens. No injuries were reported in this incident.