Preventing Barn Fires

Courtesy of America’s Horse Daily

The risk of barn fire increases significantly in winter

When the weather grows cold and horses are moved indoors, the risk of barn fires increases dramatically. In the summer, lightning and spontaneous combustion of hay are primary causes of fire. In the winter, fire usually results from faulty heaters, electrical wiring problems or rodents chewing through wires.

Generally, a fire involving combustible materials such as wood, hay, straw and shavings doubles in size every minute – meaning you have about eight minutes to get your horses out of a burning barn. Even if the horses escape, smoke inhalation could cause permanent lung damage or even death. Prevention is paramount.

Search your barn for fire risks, correct them and keep them corrected.

  1. If possible, store hay in a building separate from the horse barn. Hay that was baled damp can build up internal heat and ignite spontaneously.
  2. If hay must be stored in the barn, break a bale open every week or so to check for heat. If you feel heat between flakes of hay, remove the bales. Store the least amount of hay possible in the barn, preferably at the ground level and away from electrical wires.
  3. Rodents living in hay love to gnaw through the coating around electrical wires, and exposed wires could start a fire. To prevent this, all electrical wires in the horse barns should be encased in metal conduits.
  4. Light bulbs should have a metal mesh cage around them to prevent breaking.
  5. Install a smoke detector or heat detector above the haystack.
  6. Never store flammables such as gasoline and kerosene in the barn. Because many grooming aids, insecticides and leather-conditioning agents also are flammable, if the label says “flammable,” store the item away from the barn or in a fire-resistant metal tack box.
  7. Store gas-powered garden tractors and lawn mowers elsewhere.
  8. Clean the barn weekly and remove empty feed sacks, cobwebs and discarded hay.
  9. Get rid of dust on space heaters and heat lamps; it can spontaneously combust.
  10. Be especially careful with extension cords. Use the heavy-duty, industrial-rated type, and as soon as you’re finished with the task, unplug and put the cord away. Using one long cord is better than plugging several shorter cords together. If shorter cords must be used, tape the connections with electrical tape.
  11. Put the manure pile some distance from the barn. Heat generated by decomposing manure can start a fire if combustible materials are near.

With a barn free of potential fire hazards, focus on plans to detect and fight a fire.

  1. Install smoke detectors and check them peri­odically to make sure they work and the bat­teries are charged.
  2. Place fire extinguishers at strategic points in the barn and inspect them regularly.
  3. Install ceiling sprinklers where applicable, especially over stored hay and individual
  4. Institute a “no smoking” policy, or limit smoking to areas away from the barn.
  5. Ensure that all buildings have at least two easily accessible and unblocked exits.
  6. Install hoses attached to water taps in the barn, especially if the property is in a remote area difficult for the fire department to access. Hoses should be large enough to shoot water up onto the barn roof.
  7. Make sure everyone who lives and works on the property knows your fire evacuation plan and periodically conduct fire drills.
  8. Because horse owners often have only their name on mailboxes, firefighters unfamiliar with the area might have trouble quickly locat­ing their property when responding to an alarm, so put your address on your mailbox.

A fire in a horse barn is a devastating event. Reduce potential fire hazards and develop a quick and efficient disaster plan.