Here are 12 things to do right now to cut the risk of a devastating horse barn fire.
A barn fire is every horse owner’s worst nightmare.
A barn fire is every horse owner’s worst nightmare. Your stalled horse is particularly vulnerable, because barns are packed full of combustibles. Here are 12 lifesaving fire-safety tips.
Ban smoking. Make your barn a “no smoking” area — no exceptions. Post no-smoking signs in high-traffic areas in and around your barn, and enforce the ban.
Clean up. Keep your barn tidy, uncluttered, and clean. Eliminate piles of scrap lumber, half-used bags of grass seed, empty feed bags, gasoline cans, etc.
Remove cobwebs and dust. The cobwebs that accumulate in barns are flammable, and they trap dust, bits of hay/straw, and particles of bedding — more fire hazards! Add dusting and cobweb removal to your daily barn-cleaning routine. A long-handled feather duster is ideal for dusting light fixtures; a light broom is useful for stall grilles, walls and corners. Pay special attention to light fixtures, outlet covers and switches — and don't forget to dust the panel boxes.
Remove flammables. Store combustible materials (hay, bedding, fuel, chemicals, paint, and gas-powered equipment) at least 50 feet from your barn.
Enclose electrical wiring. Enclose all permanent wiring in PVC conduit. (Stay away from metal conduit — your barn’s humidity will lead to corrosion.) Use extension cords only when absolutely necessary, and then use only heavy-duty models designed for outdoors. Be careful with seasonal items, such as fans and water heaters; use conduit to protect these cords, too.
Don’t overload circuits. Use as few electric appliances as possible, and disconnect those not actually in use. Avoid heat lamps, which can start a fire. If you must use one, keep it away from hay and bedding, and never use an extension cord. (Adding extra sockets increases fire risk and can invalidate your fire-insurance policy.)
Enclose stall lights. Install wire or metal mesh cages to cover those overhead lights, which will help keep your horse from contacting and breaking them. Consider replacing all of your barn light bulbs with plastic-coated safety bulbs. And while you’re at it, check that the bulbs you're using are the correct wattage!
Don’t overload your circuits. Adding extra sockets increases fire risk and can invalidate your fire-insurance policy.
Photo by Katie Navarra
Watch fuel and fumes. Refuel your equipment outside your barn, and be careful when you drive your tractor, mower, or other machinery through it; exhaust fumes are combustible, too.
Manage manure. Don’t let manure build up in or near your barn; decomposing manure creates heat.
Manage vegetation. Vegetation is fire fuel. Keep your grass mowed and your weeds pulled; consider surrounding your barn with gravel instead of plantings.
Install extinguishers. Mount an all-purpose Dry Chemical ABC fire extinguisher just inside each barn door, and put one in the tack room. Keep your fire extinguishers fully charged, and be sure that everyone at your barn knows how to use them.
Enhance your address. Be sure that your street number is clearly visible from the road so that your local fire department can find you in case of emergency.
If you notice a small fire despite your prevention efforts, call the fire department immediately, then grab your fire extinguisher. Think PASS: Pull, Aim, Squeeze, Sweep. Pull the pin, aim the nozzle at the base of the flames, squeeze the trigger, and sweep the extinguisher from side to side, covering the fire area. After the fire is out, recharge or replace the extinguisher.
Jessica Jahiel, PhD, is an internationally recognized clinician and lecturer, and an award-winning author of books on horses, riding and training. Her e-mail newsletter is a popular worldwide resource.
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