A barn fire is a devastating, catastrophic event that can not only destroy a valuable building, but can kill horses and livestock, destroy stored crops, and damage all types of equipment. Fortunately, barn fires are also preventable and avoidable if you understand the risks and take the proper safety precautions.
How Barn Fires Happen
There are many different ways a barn fire could be sparked, from careless smoking and faulty electrical wiring to unsafe heaters, improperly stored hay, and lightning strikes. While fires can occur in any season, there are typically more barn fires in winter when electrical and heater use is high, and more bedding and flammable materials are stored in the barn. This is also when barn fires can be most damaging, as a winter barn may be filled with recently harvested crops, housing additional horses or livestock, and storing unused tools and equipment.
No matter what the cause or when it happens, however, a barn fire is a terrible event. Extra caution and preparation, however, will minimize the risk of a barn fire.
20 Tips to Prevent Barn Fires
The more you can to do protect your barn, the safer it will be from fires. Ideally, it is best to take as many proactive steps as possible so you do not have to deal with the devastating aftereffects of a fire.
- Ban Smoking No one should be permitted to smoke in or near the barn – not you, not guests, not workers, not contractors. Prominently post no-smoking signs and strictly enforce the ban at all times.
- Properly Dry Hay and Bedding Damp hay bales can smolder for weeks and start fires. Use a thermometer probe to monitor stored bales, and store them on their sides to increase air flow for more thorough drying.
- Store Hay Away From the Barn If possible, store hay away from the barn entirely, using a separate shed or shelter far enough away to protect the barn in case of fire. An open shelter can help the hay dry even more.
- Clean the Barn Frequently Dust, debris, and cobwebs all provide fuel for a fire and pathways for it to spread more quickly. Sweep and dust the barn every week to remove this hazard.
- Check Wiring Regularly Mice and rats, as well as mischievous goats and other livestock, can chew on wires and cause a short circuit. Inspect wiring often, and install metal conduits to protect permanent wiring.
- Use Professional Electricians Always hire certified, reputable professionals to address any wiring concerns in your barn, and avoid do-it-yourself fixes that may not be as safe or reliable.
- Unplug Anything Not in Use Even small tools such as radios or clippers will increase the electrical load and the risk of fire. Unplug everything that isn’t being used, and do not leave any items plugged in or unmonitored.
- Cover All Electrical Outlets Install sturdy weatherproof outlet covers to safeguard outlets and keep dust and debris out of every nook and cranny that could cause a spark.
- Minimize Heater Use Avoid using heaters as much as possible and rely on non-electrical options instead, such as livestock blankets and better feed so animals can maintain body heat safely.
- Use Proper Extension Cords If possible, avoid extension cords altogether, but if they are necessary, use heavy gauge cords that are rated for outdoor and farm use, and only use them temporarily, not permanently.
- Use Barn-Rated Appliances If you use heaters or fans in the barn, be sure they are rated for farm or barn use. These appliances will have sealed motors that can resist the excessive dust and debris in a barn.
- Remove All Wiring if Possible Going to a non-electric barn altogether will remove a great risk of fire. This may not be practical for larger barns, but can be a great solution for smaller buildings.
- Store All Potential Fuels Away From the Barn Keep any and all fuels, including gas and oil for farm equipment, well away from the barn. This also includes any flammable materials, such as liniments, insecticides, and cleaning solvents.
- Control Nearby Landscaping Do not plant trees or shrubbery near the barn, and keep a firebreak mowed around the barn at all times to minimize the risk of spreading wildfires.
- Install a Lightning Protection System Adding a well-designed system of lightning rods and grounding wires to your barn can help mitigate any problems caused from this natural fire risk.
- Park Vehicles Away From the Barn All vehicles, including trucks, tractors, and other equipment, should be parked well away from the barn on a dirt or gravel surface to avoid sparks from hot engines or exhaust pipes.
- Install a Sprinkler System If possible, consider installing a sprinkler system inside the barn to help control any fires that may break out. Sprinklers can also help lower fire insurance costs to protect your property.
- Keep All Escape Routes Clear All aisles, doors, and gates should always be clear in case a quick escape or fire evacuation is necessary. Less clutter and debris will also help lower overall fire risk.
- Provide Enough Fire Extinguishers Fast action can help minimize fires, and extinguishers should be available at every entrance, in the tack room, and every 25-40 feet throughout the barn so they are easily accessible.
- Invite Professionals for an Evaluation Invite your local fire department to visit your barn for an evaluation of its fire risk and recommendations for safety features. These consultations are often free and are well worthwhile for the expert analysis and additional suggestions.
No matter how many steps you take, no barn can be made completely fireproof, and there is always some risk of a fire breaking out. The more precautions you follow, however, the more you will minimize that risk and the safer your barn will be.