Barn fires are not only devastating for the property and livelihoods they destroy, but also for the lives of the people and animals they put at risk. Many local codes do not require a fire detection or suppression system, so when a fire starts, it can burn for hours at a time, undetected and out of control. As a result, stable and barn fires usually destroy most — if not all of the structure and harm livestock.
Common causes of barn fires
Barns are at high risk of fire due to a combination of factors, including electrical malfunctions, combustible materials, and the presences of animals. Not to mention that rural locations where barns are typically situated often face challenges of slow fire service response time. Improper electrical installations can spark fires. Hay and straw are highly flammable, especially when stored in large quantities. Hay can generate heat as it decomposes, potentially leading to spontaneous combustion. Fortunately, there are many things that an owner can do to protect their property and animals.
- Have an evacuation plan in writing that is reviewed every year by employees.
- Flammable and combustible materials such as hay, straw, excess bedding materials, manure, grain, paint, fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides should not be stored in the same building as livestock. If a must — flammables and combustibles should be labeled and stored in proper UL-approved fireproof cabinets.
- No open flame should be allowed in the buildings anytime.
- Avoid parking or fueling tractors or any vehicle near the building. Engine heat and backfires can spark a flame. Store machinery and small engines outside the barn or in another building.
- Common areas should not be open to free-roaming animals or pets.
- Develop a maintenance and loss control plan to check on electrical, heating equipment, hay storage, and safety. Include general cleaning of dust and cobwebs in plan as they can be combustible.
- Do not use exposed elements as heating sources. Temporary heaters should have a tip-over safety switch. Verify that a breaker can handle the power draw before plugging in. Extension cords are not acceptable.
- Permanent heat sources with heating elements should not be open or exposed. Keep the main heating source outside of the building and equip it with a blower to force heat into the space. Radiant heat is one of the best sources of heat for barns and stables as is electric forced air. Infrared or radiant heat is also conducive for short-term heat if used correctly and kept away from combustibles.
- Systems should be on a yearly service plan.
- All wiring should be in conduit to prevent rodents from chewing through wiring and be GFCI (ground-fault interrupter) protected. Outlets should be equipped with spring-loaded covers that keep out dust, hay, cobwebs, and other combustible materials when not in use. Incandescent and halogen lights are not suitable for barn and stable lighting because they become very hot and create a potential fire hazard. LED, vapor-proof fixtures, and of course, natural light are the way to go.
- Keep appliances to a minimum. Use space heaters, fans, and radios only when someone is present, and keep away from animals who could chew the cords.
- Extension cords should never be used. If used and temporary, put away after use and do not use on any appliance or equipment creating heat, especially space heaters. Heaters and de-icers for water should not be used with extension cords and should typically be a submersible or drain-plug style to prevent horses from playing with floatation-type heaters.