Tragic barn fire stories make horrific headlines each year. More than 1,000 catastrophic structure fires destroy barns filled with horses or other livestock annually, resulting in more than $30 million in property damage, according to the U.S. National Fire Prevention Association.
Each year, barn blazes kill equines and other farm animals, who find themselves trapped inside the farm structures when the fires break out. Because these agricultural buildings tend to be constructed mainly of wood and filled with such flammable items as hay, straw, and wood shavings, they can go up in full flames instantly.
How can barn fires be prevented?
Several basic strategies and practical steps can help to minimize a farm’s chances of facing a barn fire.
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Ten tips for preventing horse barn fires are listed alphabetically here.
1. Ban bucket warmers.
In the winter months, electric water bucket warmers may seem convenient, but these can also be quite dangerous. The heating elements may spark, or the cords may fray. If horse buckets become frozen, tapping out the ice and replacing it with fresh water is a much safer solution.
2. Clear away clutter.
Piled up clutter is not only a fire hazard in the barn, but it may also obstruct fire and rescue crews, if a blaze should ever break out. Horse blankets, saddle pads, tack and other supplies should be neatly stowed and out of the way.
For fire safety reasons, the feed closets, horse stalls, tack rooms and other areas of the barn should be left unlocked. Barn aisles and stall doors must be clear and unobstructed. Jammed stall door latches ought to be fixed promptly.
3. Display smoke detectors.
Although smoke detectors may not actually prevent fires, they do provide immediate warning, which can make the difference between a manageable fire and a total conflagration. Smart barn managers install plenty of smoke detectors and replace batteries regularly.
4. Examine electricals.
Faulty wiring (for heating and electrical applications) is the number-one cause of barn fires each year. By keeping wiring updated, barn managers can ensure they will pass fire code inspections and minimize their risks of tragedy from fire.
All electrical appliances, grooming clippers, radios, stall fans and lights must be switched off (or even unplugged) after use.
Extension cords should be checked and replaced often, particularly if they become frayed, cracked or gnawed by rodents or other barn creatures. Also, tightly coiled extension cords may actually emit a magnetic charge that can be a fire hazard.
5. Find fire extinguishers.
Barn managers may find plenty of areas for cutting costs, but fire extinguishers are not one of these. Fire extinguishers – all in working order – should be installed within easy reach in each barn aisle, with their locations clearly marked. Some barns have printed signs to indicate the presence of fire extinguishers, while others may mount these fire safety devices on bright red boards.
6. Have hydration handy.
Although some fire department vehicles may be equipped with their own water sources, these supplies may not nearly be sufficient for a big barn fire. Smart barn planners will include fire hydrants, unless they can build their barns near ponds or rivers and invest in a ready pump system.
Of course, plenty of working hoses should be kept neatly coiled and ready for the first sign of a fire emergency.
7. Set up a sprinkler system.
Automatic overhead fire sprinkler systems are expensive, but these convenient safety installations may prevent a total disaster, in case of a barn fire.
8. Stash incendiaries separately.
Cleaning fluids, gasoline, kerosene, motor oil, solvents and other flammable compounds must be stored in a remote area from the barn.
9. Stop smoking on-site, and show signage.
Smoking at the stables is pretty much a universal taboo, as well it should be. A single ember from a cigar, cigarette or pipe can set an entire barn ablaze. Smokers must be invited to practice their habits far from the barn, farm equipment, feed buildings, hay piles, wood shavings supplies and other flammable areas.
Of course, campfires and barbecues should only be set up at a safe distance from these areas as well, with sufficient water sources nearby, just in case.
10, Store manure at a safe distance.
Animal manure and urine-soaked stall bedding can produce its own heat, along with ammonia fumes. By keeping this material outdoors and far from the barn, stable managers can prevent spontaneous combustion fires from these waste products.
Also, fresh-cut hay must be completely dry before it is stacked in or near the barn, as moist cuttings may heat up and create a fire hazard.
These basic steps and safety precaution can help stable managers and horse lovers to dramatically reduce their risks of barn fires.