Unfortunately, cold, wintery days are just around the corner. As it gets chilly, we turn up the heat and put longer hours on our electrical and heating systems. As a direct result, the risk of barn fires greatly increases in the winter. Prevention and preparation is the key to avoid tragedy.
Now is the time to do an annual barn evaluation and fall clean up to prevent a barn fire tragedy!
Very simply put, to prevent a barn fire you must keep combustibles and sources of ignition separate.
Combustibles are everywhere in a barn and its how you store, clean and use them that make a difference. Some common combustibles found in barns are: hay, bedding, cobwebs, weeds, gasoline, diesel, paint, pesticides, dust, lint, garbage, wood, tractors and vehicles.
It is recommended to store your large combustibles like hay, shavings, fuels, tractors and ATVs in a separate building, at least 50 feet away from your horse stable. If you must keep some hay/shavings in the barn, only keep enough for the next feeding/cleaning. Hay, before storing, should also be checked for excess moisture as excess moisture may lead to spontaneous combustion. You can test this with a common stick type moisture meter, hay should be below 20 percent in moisture to be stored safely.
In the barn, remove cobwebs and dust regularly, making sure to especially clean cobwebs and dust away from electrical outlets and lights as they will catch electric sparks and let fire spread quickly! Sweep up loose hay and straw and dispose of them away from the barn. Take out the trash daily, clean out feeders, do not store hay binder twine, dust any fan blades and if you have a clothes dryer, clean out the lint trap every time you use it. Check the bedding you use for your horses. Avoid very fine sawdust as a bedding material as it produces too much flammable dust.
In your barn: Install smoke detectors, place a 10-pound ABC fire extinguisher at each exit, hang a halter and lead rope on each and every stall, keep entrances and exits clear and unblocked, use extension cords only for temporary uses, make sure all light fixtures are encased in safety enclosures or you are using LED lighting, check that all electric circuits are protected by ARC fault breakers and that all electric wire is enclosed in non-corrosive conduit and post a barn site map with instructions on how to turn off utilities and who to call in an emergency.
Once you have reduced your risk by taking care of combustibles, inspect all possible sources of ignition. Some possible sources of Ignition are temporary heat lamps, water bucket heaters, portable heaters and fans. Portable heaters are especially a fire risk. If you use a portable heater make sure that it is placed on a clear, solid surface, away from any flammable items and that it cannot get knocked over. When not in use, all electrical equipment should be unplugged and properly stored away. It is important not to let water bucket heaters run dry. Once empty, the continuous heat can melt the bucket resulting in ignition of stall bedding and hay.
Jim Zyta, vice president for loss prevention at Heartland Farm Mutual, provided the following tips: For additional protection against fire, especially in the animal housing area, consider arc-fault protection on 15 and 20 amp circuits and receptacles. This is especially important if your wiring is recessed within barn walls and above ceilings.
Arc-fault protection could prevent a fire due to loose connections or rodent damage saving your building and much more! When using 240 volt approved barn heaters consult with your electrician and ESA inspector. It is a best practice to hardwire these units directly to a 30 amp circuit avoiding a receptacle connection. These 30 amp/250V receptacles are notorious for burning up!
To learn more about fire safety on the farm and to download a FREE Barn Fire Safety Checklist, go to the website www.nfpa.org/farms.