While fires are devastating, they are oftentimes preventable. A spark from a cigarette, hay baled too soon that overheats, a space heater that’s fallen over are all common causes of accidental fires.
The best prevention is thorough preparedness. Avoid a tragedy by learning and putting these five fire-safety steps to practice within your barn or facility.
Fire-Safety Step One: Clean the Space
Fire needs fuel to grow. Along with hay, barn debris such as cobwebs, stray bedding and feed, stacked wood, or even horse blankets can act as tinder. Make a habit of dusting, sweeping, and generally keeping your barn and tack rooms tidy to reduce available fuel.
Fire-Safety Step Two: Keep Track of Chemicals
With all the equipment maintenance, fueling, and cleaning that goes on around a horse property, it’s not uncommon to have fire accelerants, such as paint thinner or fuel, and ignition sources, such as heaters or batteries, on hand. Whenever possible, keep chemicals safely stored in a separate building from your livestock. Better yet, keep them in a fireproof cabinet.
If a fire does occur, first responders will want to know if there are chemicals present that could impact how they suppress the fire safely.
Fire-Safety Step Three: Reduce the Risk of Spark
It’s best to have a no-smoking policy within the barn. Next is electrical fires. All electrical boxes, lights and fixtures, insect-control devices, motors, and appliances that are plugged into the wall should be away from moisture and checked regularly. Even a frayed cord from clippers can throw a spark that can cause a fire in the right conditions.
The use of portable space heaters in the barn also should be limited. If you need to use them to make a space bearable, do so in non-horse areas to reduce the likelihood that they are knocked over. Never leave them unattended.
Fire-Safety Step Four: Assume the Worst
When purchasing or constructing a barn, imagine your exit scenario for your horses. Will they leave through the aisleway doors? If so, you can remove the risk by reducing or eliminating the number of stalls in the center aisles. Stalls with both internal and external doors make it easier to quickly release horses.
Fire-retardant paint may also be used throughout the barn. Remember, though, that fire-retardant or resistant materials will only slow the spread or reduce the intensity of the fire, it will not eliminate it. Install fire doors, smoke detectors, fire alarms, and sprinklers as additional alert and mitigation strategies to keep your horse safe. Always keep a charged fire extinguisher on hand and check it regularly.
Fire-Safety Step Five: Make Response Easy
Response teams’ ability to reduce damage is limited to their ability to properly respond. If the barn is difficult to access due to trees, narrow roads or gates, or other vehicles parked in the area, it becomes harder to get an engine or truck in position. Try to have a high-volume water source available, such as a pond or fire hydrant nearby. This allows water to be pumped quickly to the fire versus hauling water in.
Store Hay Safely
Store hay in a separate space from your horses, such as in a shed or lean-to. Hay that’s too moist when it’s baled is at risk for spontaneous combustion. The moisture within the hay provides a place for organisms to flourish, which produces heat. As heat builds, the bale can combust, igniting itself.