|Barn Fires, the horse owners worse nightmare.
We have all seen the headlines, we've all heard the horrific stories
of horses' burning alive in the flames of their barn.
Fire Kills Three Horses
Fatal Barn Fire
Barn Fire Kills Ten
Firefighters Injured in Barn Fire
Barn Destroyed by Lightening
Twenty Horses Killed in Barn Blaze
|Associated Press HENDERSON, Ky. --
A fire that killed 22 horses, mostly thoroughbreds, appears
Preliminary findings show last week's fire possibly was
sparked from a heat bulb or heat lamp, said Ken Meredith, deputy
commissioner of the state Department of Housing, Buildings and Construction.
Heat lamps are often used to heat barns.
Eighteen horses perished inside the barn, on the backside
of what used to be Riverside Downs. Four escaped but had to be euthanized
because of their injuries.
Fire officials estimated a $500,000 loss but expected
that figure to rise.
Unfortunately stable fires are not rare and not only does fire destroy
property, it can destroy lives. Even when the horses escape the flames,
fires damages or destroys hay and barns costing thousands of dollars in
lost revenue and in building and feed replacement. What can a horse owner
do to reduce the risk of a barn fire? Plan, Prepare and Prevent.
Barn fires can spread extremely fast. Barns, by their very nature are
airy and filled with combustible materials so they burn easily and quickly.
Any large open structure burns faster than the same size structure with
walls. Placing sheets of drywall on the loft floor and covering them with
plywood retards fire, often allowing local firefighters to extinguish a
fire before it burns through the loft.
Call your local fire department and ask them to tour your facility. Ask
them for any suggestions as to improvements for fire protection. An important
part of fire prevention is working with your local police and fire departments.
Plan how you would get a fire engine onto your property. Fire trucks are
difficult to turn in small areas and require ground that will support them.
Make sure this would provide year-round access.
Think about ease of access to your barn in the dark. No electricity,
just flashlights, if the fire does not take out the electricity, the fire
department will turn it off to prevent electrical shock.
Have a clear map of the barn and property posted at a location well away
from the barn. Alternate water and power sources should be clearly marked.
Survey your property for the best location for animal confinement in the
event of fire. Post this location at the barn map.
Water supply is essential, where is you best water source? If you have
a swimming pool or pond, that is your first water source and at night,
a fire department might not see it so mark it on the map.
If possible, buildings should be at least 50 or more from one another to
reduce the chance of a fire in one building spreading to another.
Modify your electrical system to allow turning off power to buildings without
turning off power to your water pumps. It is also not a bad idea to have
another power source supplying power to external lights, which are placed
well away from the barn but will allow a place to "gather".
A sprinkler system can be an asset, but make sure that you have the water
pressure to handle one. Approximately 95 percent of fires where a
sprinkler system existed have been controlled or extinguished.
Add lightning rods to your barn.
Place fire extinguishers at each entrance, in the feed and tack rooms.
*Are they annually charged?
*Is there 10 pounds ABC or better?
*Are they protected from freezing?
Installed a shutoff switch, at night, or when no one is home, turn off
the power to the barn.
Place halters and lead lines in a location that is quickly available in
the dark and for strangers. Keep lead lines attached to halters. Marking
this location clearly with a glow in the dark lettering which can be seen
in limited lighting.
Install a fire detection system to notify you, 911 emergency operators
or connected to the nearest fire fighting organization for automatic alarm.
Also have the system attached to outside noisemaker, that can be heard
at your house and that of the neighbors.
If possible, install a frost proof water hydrant at the entrance to each
barn. Make sure that the hose, stored at the hydrant, is long enough to
reach the far end of the barn.
Fuel tanks should be located at least 40 feet away from buildings. Make
sure the tanks are properly grounded and that there are fire extinguishers
near the tanks.
A list of all emergency telephone numbers; police, fire, hospital (vet
and human,) EMT, poison control should be available at various locations
on the farm.
Most horse barn fires occur in winter.
Develop an evacuation plan.
Stall your most valuable, oldest, weakest and most likely to panic (youngsters?)
horses so they can be removed first from the barn.
Have adequate holding pens or an area where horses can be properly confined
when removed from the barn. Loose horses are dangerous and often charge
back into a burning barn.
Training your horses to deal with noise, bright flashing lights etc.. Children
have been known to die in fires because they were afraid of the fireman.
So just imagine what it will be like to your horses.
Cell phone, flashlights, extra batteries, portable generators are all good
resources to have on hand.
The storage of wet hay is the most common cause of hay fires. Reducing
the risk of hay fires.
Do not be lulled into a false sense of security because your buildings
made of metal roofing and siding, once a fire starts it is often hard to
get under control.
Faulty electrical wiring and connections are one of the leading causes
of barn fires. If you do not know if your facilities were inspected, have
a qualified electrician check the wiring.
Are the service boxes in a dry, dust free location and mounted on fire
Are the electrical fixtures free of dust, dirt, cob webs, chaff, hay or
Clean the dust out of electrical appliances such as fans and heaters.
Never use extension cords or multiple plug strips in the barn. If extension
cords must be used, buy industrial grade ones.
Disconnect coffee pots, radios, fans, portable heaters and other electrical
appliances when not in use.
Do not run electric cords over nails as supports or hangers.
Cage all electric light fixtures to prevent damage.
Electrical wires should be in conduit pipes so horses and rodents cannot
chew through the protective insulation for the wire. Put electrical wire
through metal conduits, not plastic or PVC pipe. Horses should not have
access to the conduit.
Feed, hay and bedding areas should be "off limits" to all individuals,
Keep your barn clean and free of dust, cobwebs, trash, oily tack or hoof
cleaning rags, soiled paper towels and other easily ignited fire hazards.
Do not allow smoking in your barn. Post "No Smoking" signs at all entrances,
and provide sand buckets for lighted cigarettes.
Hay, gas, oil, scrap wood, etc. should be stored in a separate location.
Do not store bedding materials in the horse barn.
Quick moving fires, which are difficult to put out are encouraged by stalls
made of wood, filled with straw as bedding for the horses. Consider shavings
as alternate bedding and any place you can put up a solid, non flammable
wall will delay a fire.
risk of hay fires.
First and foremost, when ever possible, store hay in a separate building
from the horses.
Storing bedding and hay in the same building as your horses is not desirable,
but for many people it is the only option.
There are some things that can be done to lessen fire risks if hay
must be stored in the stable:
Most fires blamed on spontaneous combustion of stored hay usually occur
within six weeks of baling but may occur in hay that is several years old.
The most common cause is excessive moisture but outside ignitors, such
as electrical sparks can spark fires in high levels of hay dust.
Put hay on pallets and stack bales loosely to air can circulate though
the pile as much as possible.
If space allows, have hay in multiple small stacks (or spread out only
1 or 2 bales deep) instead of a single large stack.
If you buy hay instead of putting it up yourself, try to store as little
as possible (yes, this increases labor and expense, but it's worth the
reduced fire risk).
Check stored hay and bedding frequently and carefully to make sure
it is not getting wet from a leaky roof (especially in lofts of older barns).
Go up during a pounding rainstorm and look for leaks.
Try to use all of one load of hay or bedding before buying another, or
move old bales from prior load to the front so that they get used before
starting in on the new load.
Clean hay and bedding storage area completely and thoroughly as often as
possible - at least once a year, preferably twice or more per year.
When a hay crop is stored wet, microbial action can generate internal
bale temperatures well above 150 degrees. Usually, the temperature will
peak 3-7 days after baling. The temperature then normally takes 15-60 days
to decline to non damaging levels, depending on outdoor humidity, bale
density and amount of rainfall soaked up by the bales. New hay that has
been stacked in the field or placed in a barn should be checked at least
twice a day for abnormal heating. When storing hay inside, check the barn
roof and any plumbing for leaks, and be sure surface water cannot run into
One means to check hay temperature is by using a temperature probe to
monitor temperatures inside the bales. A probe can be built using a 3/8
inch diameter pipe with a pointed tip screwed to the end and holes drilled
in it. A thermometer can then be inserted into the pipe and retrieved and
read after 10-15 minutes. If the hay temperature reaches 130 degrees F,
move the hay to allow increased air circulation and cooling. If the temperature
climbs above 150 degrees to 175 degrees F, call the fire department, and
be prepared to inject water to cool any hot spots before moving the hay.
If at all possible, don't open the barn door if hay is smoking; the added
oxygen could cause the hay to burst into flames.
In general, hay is considered too wet for storage if moisture levels
are higher than 20 percent in small rectangular bales, higher than 18 percent
in large round bales, and higher than 16 percent in large square bales.
To determine moisture levels you can use a microwave oven to determine
moisture content in just a few minutes. A small kitchen, dietary or postage
scale is also necessary, preferably one which weighs in grams.
This method is from Ohio State University Extension Department of Horticulture
and Crop Science
Refer to Ohio State FACT Sheet AGF-004-90, "Using a Microwave Oven
to Determine Forage Moisture," which is available on
© Beverly J Whittington 2000