Preventing Barn Fires
Barn fires are far too common, and they often have devastating results. To date, there have already been 110,889 farm animals killed by barn fires this year. Despite the high number of animals lost to fire yearly, most barn fires can be prevented by taking a few preventive measures.
What Causes Most Barn Fires
Barns made of old wood and filled with hay are fuel waiting for a spark. Although these conditions add to the potential for barns to burn, they aren’t the main reason these fires happen. Below are some of the causes of barn fires and what you can do to prevent them from happening.
It seems like a no-brainer that you shouldn’t smoke in the barn. Regardless, this is the number one cause of barn fires. Smokers might toss cigarette butts aside without thinking about the dangers.
The most important thing you can do to prevent barn fires is to ban smoking. Post signage in all livestock buildings, feed rooms, hay storage – every area where there is a huge potential for fires to happen. Enforce the no smoking ban in any barn whether it’s made of wood or metal.
2. Bale and Store Hay Properly
Baling hay is how we preserve grass for animals that can’t graze. Baling hay with a higher moisture level than 18% allows heat-producing organisms to breed, which can cause spontaneous combustion. Make sure hay is properly cured before baling. You can also use a specially designed probe to monitor hay bales for additional security.
Storing hay in the barn increases the risk of barn fires. When it’s the only option, storing hay on its side with the stalks running vertically will increase airflow and reduce the risk of starting a fire. Traditionally, farmers put salt on hay to help draw moisture out. In addition to reducing the risk of spontaneous combustion, salt also inhibits the growth of bacteria and microorganisms that can spoil hay. Salt also inhibits the growth of mold, which is dangerous to horses.
3. Keep Water Nearby
Install frost-proof hydrants near every entrance. Have water hoses for each hydrant that will reach throughout the barn. Use heat tape or heating cables during cold weather to keep water from freezing. Follow the manufacturer's instructions to ensure safety.
4. Install and Maintain Professional Electrical Wiring
Have a professional electrician install the wiring. It should be housed in a conduit and have the appropriate rating. Check the condition of the wiring frequently. Rodents and other predators can chew and damage exposed wires. Have any damaged wires replaced right away.
5. Keep It Clean
Keep hay, dust, and cobwebs out of the hallways, floors, and corners that are easy to burn. Never keep fuels or other flammable chemicals stored in the barn. Also, avoid leaving rags lying around. Once a fire starts, these combustible materials will allow fires to spread in minutes.
6. Use Caution with Heat Lamps and Space Heaters
You might use a space heater or heat lamp inside the barn when the weather gets cold. Whether you heat the barn for your animals or your workers, use extreme caution. Heat lamps are very dangerous for several reasons. They can ignite things like wood or dust, emit light that disrupts sleep patterns, and shatter the glass bulb.
A better alternative is a ceramic heat emitter. It works like a heat lamp but without any light or a glass bulb. Secure the heat emitter with a non-flammable hanger, never with twine or rope. For smaller animals such as chicks or barn cats you may look into a Thermo-Poultry Brooder, these provide a smaller risk or fire while keeping those small animals warm.
When using heaters in the barn, only use those in new condition and working properly. Check the cord for damage before each use. Choose a model that prevents overheating and cuts off automatically when knocked over. Shut it off when unattended. It only takes a few seconds for a fire to start.
7. Make Your Barn Accessible to Emergency Vehicles
Emergency vehicles require a 12- to 14-foot-wide drive that is clear of debris and mud. If you need to place a 911 call because of a barn fire, make sure there aren’t any barriers, including fences and locked gates, that will slow them down. If there are, notify them during the call.
8. Install a Fire Alarm System
The distance between the barn and your home can prevent you from sensing a barn fire. Minutes can pass, giving the fire time to build and spread. You can’t rely on the same smoke alarms you use in your home. They can get clogged with dust, and you may not hear them when they do sound.
A safer option is to install a fire alarm system that is more tolerant to dust. Heat detectors in certain areas can detect changes in the air and report them to you when they reach a specific temperature. Connecting to a central station monitoring system works like a security system in your home. The monitoring company is notified in case of a fire, so emergency services will arrive sooner.
9. Install Several Clearly Marked Fire Extinguishers
Barns and related buildings should have several fire extinguishers clearly marked with fluorescent signage. Fire extinguishers are useful if someone is in the barn when a fire begins to burn.
10. Invest in a Sprinkler System
A properly installed sprinkler system is one of the most effective steps you can take to protect your barn from fires. Often, they aren’t installed because of the perceived cost. At $1 to $1.50 per square foot, a sprinkler system is much more affordable than losing your barn and animals to a preventable fire.
Get Peace of Mind
Fire prevention is important for your peace of mind, no matter what size your barn is or what kind of animals you keep. A barn fire can happen to you, just like thousands of barn owners and animals every year.
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