8 Steps to Prevent Barn Fires
A barn fire is the stuff of nightmares for any horse owner, with good reason. The average barn is a tinder box, filled with dried bedding, feed and dust. Improperly baled hay and straw can spontaneously ignite a fast-spreading fire. According to a report by Penn State’s College of Agriculture, straw reaches burning temperatures within 1 to 5 minutes. Upon reaching a stall, a fire will consume the bedding in 2-3 minutes. To survive unharmed, a horse must be rescued within 30 seconds. Those are terrible odds.
The good news is that you can take many steps when siting, planning and managing your post frame barn to prevent a barn fire. Read on for a few things we’ve learned over our many years working as a custom horse barn builder in the Mid Atlantic region.
COMMON CAUSES OF BARN FIRES
Most preventable barn fires are caused by careless smoking, which is tragic. Other common causes include faulty electrical systems and improperly stored hay. Most barn fires occur in winter, when the most bedding is stored and electrical use is high. Focus your planning to address these most common hazards.
1. DON’T ASSUME—BAN SMOKING
It may go without saying, but the statistics show that the number one thing you can do to prevent a barn fire is to ban smoking. Don’t assume that boarders, workers and guests will understand this common sense practice. Post no-smoking notices prominently.
2. MONITOR BALED HAY
Hay fires result from baling hay when it is too moist, and will usually occur within six weeks after baling. Ideally, hay should be baled with moisture levels of 15 to 18 percent. Hay baled with higher moisture levels breeds heat-producing organisms that can cause spontaneous combustion. To prevent this, ensure that your bedding and feed are properly dried before baling. You can monitor hay bale temperatures with specially designed probes during the first six weeks after baling for added security.
3. STORE HAY PROPERLY
One simple way to prevent hay and bedding fires is to store them in a separate building or a separate area of the barn. This is not always feasible, however, and remote storage means extra work when feeding and bedding. As a result, many horse owners continue to store hay in the loft. When storing hay inside the barn, Penn State recommends stacking bales on their sides with the stalks running up and down to promote good air flow.
4. SITE YOUR POST FRAME BARN TO PREVENT FIRE SPREAD
Make sure your barn is sited so that emergency vehicles can reach it, ideally with 50 feet of clearance around it for access. Consider storing dried bedding and feed in a separate structure 100 feet away from your home or barn, which is enough to prevent a fire from leaping from building to building. Store fuels and other volatile chemicals, whenever possible, outside of the barn.
5. PROVIDE WATER
Frost-proof water hydrants should be located near the main entrances to your barn. Make sure that all areas of your barn can be reached with water from a hydrant or hose. Heat tape can keep the water flowing, but it is often improperly installed, leading to fires. If you use heat tape, be sure to install it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
6. KEEP DUST AND COBWEBS DOWN
A tidy barn is less prone to fire. Dust and cobweb buildup, interspersed with stray bedding, feed and other combustible materials, is like so much tinder spread throughout your barn, waiting for the first spark to set it off.
7. USE ELECTRICITY SAFELY
All barn wiring should be housed in a conduit and be UF-B rated. Check lines frequently to ensure that they haven’t been chewed by mice or otherwise damaged. Avoid using extension cords, and if you must use them, use industrial grade cords and unplug and remove them when they are not in use.
8. USE SPACE HEATERS WITH CAUTION
Yes, barn work can be cold duty through much of the year, but space heaters are notorious fire hazards. If you use one in your barn to keep the humans happy, be sure that it is kept far away from bedding and other combustibles and that it is never left running unmonitored. It takes only seconds for a simple comfort to turn into a deadly fire.
ENJOY YOUR DREAM BARN
Taking these simple steps will help you and your horses enjoy the beautiful, functional barn you’ve always dreamed of without ever experiencing the nightmare of a fire.
Our designers are experienced in designing post frame barns that put the safety of your horses first. Contact us today to talk about creating the horse barn of your dreams.