Horse Barn Fires
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 accidental.
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.




Reducing the 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.

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 the barn.

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 line .

© Beverly J Whittington 2000