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Preventing Horse Barn Fires Part II

Preventing Horse Barn Fires- Part II

If you missed my blog yesterday – it would behoove you to go back and pick up Part I on Horse Barn Fires.  As I mentioned –  I get Email alerts when new articles appear on line about pole barns. Sadly, far too many of them involve fires in horse barns. Usually, but not always, these fires were entirely preventable.

By one estimate, more than 4,500 barn fires break out each year in the United States.

Responsible horse owners, who would do anything to protect their horses from injury and illness, too often leave fire prevention entirely to chance.

Continuing on from yesterday’s blog…

Lightning Rods do Work…if installed and used properly…

For protection against nature’s fire starter, install lightning rods on stables and outbuildings, and check them periodically to be sure they’re in good condition. Lightning rods on rooftop high points are connected by cables which run to ground to divert the energy of a strike away from the structure itself. Some barn owners choose not to use lightning rods, mistakenly believing they attract lightning, but the devices simply conduct lightning which would have hit a structure anyway. Lightning rods, which have been used since colonial days, require proper installation and grounding to carry out their purpose. Inadequate cables, wrongly placed rods and grounding failures all interfere with the system’s ability to relay the voltage into the ground. A vehicle parked against a system cable interferes with the grounding, as do phone cables, television antennas or satellite dishes connected to it. If considering having lightning rods installed, contact local fire department or county extension office for references to reliable services.

Guard against spontaneous combustion. Self-ignition can occur in large masses of organic material, such as piles of wood shavings, manure piles and tightly packed stacks of insufficiently cured hay. In damp hay, decomposition begins near the center of the mass but, because there’s no ventilation, the heat thrown off by the process builds until the ignition point for the drier surface hay is reached. The spontaneous fire which erupts may occur several days after the storage area has been filled. If storing large amounts of new hay during the summer, be sure it is well cured before it gets into a hay loft. Also avoid leaving piles of other organic material undisturbed for long periods of time.

 What’s the Chance of a fire?

Barn FireHuman error and plain bad luck happen, making fire a very slim but still real possibility in well-managed stables. Reducing the chance of a barn fire includes preemptive strategies to hit the fire before it can take hold and emergency actions to ensure the barn’s most valuable contents — the horses and people — come out intact.

Install a warning system. Consult with a fire-safety expert and electrician about the most reliable sensing system. The choice is between smoke detectors and heat sensors. Both sound alarms at the first flicker of fire. But heat sensors may be more reliable in dusty stable conditions where smoke alarms may read the particles as smoke and give off false alarms.

Load up on the ABC’s!

Mount fire extinguishers at key points around the stable. Although extinguishers are useless against established fires, they are effective at ignition. Consult with a fire-safety expert for recommendations on the optimum number and placement of extinguishers, which should be the “all-purpose” dry-chemical ABC type. Inspect them at the intervals described in the operator’s manual, and have them recharged immediately if they fail a routine check. In an emergency, call the fire department first before picking up an extinguisher. Even when a blaze appears to be out, notify the local fire department immediately — a requirement of some local fire codes – as five percent of barn fires result from rekindling of a fire believed to be extinguished.

Can a Fire Truck Easily Get to You?

Make your property accessible to emergency services. See the street address and/or name is clearly visible at the property entrance and large enough to be noticed by drivers of speeding emergency vehicles. Check to see lanes, gates and stream crossings can accommodate fire trucks and there’s a clear right-of-way for them to reach all buildings.

Horse Emergency Evacuation Tools

Equip buildings with lifesaving tools. Keep a halter and lead shank on every stall door, ready to lead horses to safety. Have a fully charged cell phone on the premises to call emergency services even if phone lines burn out. Consider installing a backup generator to light the barn aisles and/or pump well water even if electricity is cut off. If using water tanks for fire protection, keep them completely full at all times, both for the water they provide and to prevent their destruction by a nearby blaze.

Horses need to practice Emergency Procedures too!

Familiarize horses with emergency procedures. The more obedient horses are to the entire general handling expectations of leading, standing, loading and so forth, the better control over them during unsettling circumstances. Practice evacuating horses from the stable, and make the experience as close to the real thing as possible.

No barn can be 100 percent fireproof, but they can be constructed to make safety the foremost concern.

A sprinkler system can result in a 10 percent discount in an insurance premium. Reevaluate insurance coverage periodically, to make sure limits are adequate to cover full replacement costs.

While wood is flammable, the heavy timbers which support pole barns will take a lot to burn through. Investigate using fire-retardant lumber. Select steel roofing and siding.

While structural steel and masonry are far less flammable building choices, they’re not as “kind” to horses stabled in direct contact with them. Besides higher up-front costs, having to isolate concrete footings and steel or concrete framing members (or work around them) becomes problematic.

Consider A Sprinkling System!

Investigate the feasibility and effectiveness of a sprinkler system. Sprinkler system sensors are not wrongly triggered by dust or fumes, with the odds of failure occurring during a system’s 40-year life span being one in three million. Despite their good reputation, they are rarely found in boarding stables and private barns. While sprinkler systems can cost as much as two dollar per square foot, installed, this is insignificant in relationship to the value of the horses.

Horse-barn owners who have been through a fire are understandably more vigilant the second time around and often change the way they run their operations. Universally, they cease storing large quantities of hay in the same buildings with their horses. Those who previously had hay lofts, build loftless replacements.

Consider more plentiful quantities of large exterior doors, as well as exterior stall doors from each stall, which can be easily opened from outside.

Spending a few extra dollars initially, for good horse barn design, is a small investment to avoid the grief of a tragic barn fire. I’ve seen far too many stall barns designed inadequately for the horses, the humans, and which could prevent or minimize devastating losses.

Preventing Horse Barn Fires Part I

Thanks to Google, I get Email alerts when new articles appear on line about pole barns. Sadly, far too many of them are from online versions of newspapers and involve fires in horse barns. Usually, but not always, these fires were entirely preventable.

My daughter Bailey (https://www.baileymombtraining.com/) is a professional horse trainer and she would be devastated if a fire was to injure, or worse yet, kill one of her or her client’s horses.

By one estimate, more than 4,500 barn fires break out each year in the United States.

Responsible horse owners, who would do anything to protect their horses from injury and illness, too often leave fire prevention entirely to chance.

Ever watch the 1991 movie, Backdraft starring Kurt Russell?

The same thing happens in barn fires, as in Backdraft. In the event of a barn fire, opening doors can result in being launched into the air by back drafts from inside.  Plus the outside air oxygenates the fire, accelerating the inferno.

Fire safety boils down to two key principles.

  1. Separate heat and burnables from each other
  2. Be prepared and preemptive when emergencies do occur.

Barn fires are less likely today than in the era before electricity, when kerosene lanterns were routinely used to light the way during predawn and evening barn chores (think Mrs. O’Leary’s cow and the Great Chicago Fire).

While electric lighting is safer, electrical appliances continue to be among the primary igniters of barn fires. They’re just different heat sources allowed to get too dose to the combustible materials inevitably part of the stable environment.

Write out your Safety Plan!

A serious risk-reduction effort begins with a written fire-safety plan for the property. Write it out, so changes on the to-do list actually get done, and can be crossed off as completed. Often insurers or local fire department experts will walk through a barn to identify hazards and give suggestions for reducing fire risk. Some large riding and show facilities are required to have frequent fire inspections. For smaller facilities, regular inspections (at least twice yearly) are not a bad practice.

With flammable bedding, hay and structural wood contained within most stables, horses and combustible materials would seem to be inseparable. Additionally, many of the normal elements of stable surroundings — landscaping plants, dried vegetation, bedding-filled manure heaps and gasoline-powered machinery — provide ready tinder for fires started elsewhere and spread by wind. One of the most readily accomplished fire-prevention measures, then, is to reduce the potential fuel for a barn fire inside and outside buildings.

Keep it Clean!

Horse Barn StallsMake regular stable cleaning a priority. Remove refuse, chaff and other barn wastes which can feed and spread a fire. Check storage areas for flammables, such as pesticides, cleaning fluids and paints, and dispose of unneeded items according to county hazardous-waste guidelines. Keep necessary flammables in approved containers well away from heat sources.

Store hay and bedding away from the stabling area. Place only small amounts in the main barn, and replenish when needed.

Clear shrubbery from around the barn, and keep surroundings mowed or trimmed to eliminate flame-spreading dead vegetation. Where wildfires are a potential problem, follow this guideline from a U.S. Forest Service staffer: Clear a distance around buildings three times the height of the burnable material plus 10 feet for every 15 degrees of slope on the land. Thus, if the vegetation is eight feet tall (3 X 8 = 24) on a 30-degree slope (30 + 15 = .2 X 10 = 20); clear a radius of 44 feet (24 + 20 = 44) around the barn.

Remove creosote treated railroad ties in the surrounding landscaping.


Humans cause more fires than electricity does.

Human intent and human error are the two major causes of barn fires; electrical failures and lightning strikes are the next most common fire starters.

Minimize opportunity for human error. Forbid smoking in and near the barn.  Some trainers have “smoking allowed here only” designated areas. Exercise extreme caution in allowing mechanical heat sources, such as welders and propane torches, to be used for repairs and construction around horse stabling. A discarded cigarette can smolder unnoticed to ignite bedding, hay or yard litter. A welding spark or torch flame may touch off an immediate conflagration in a chaff or litter-filled area.

Treat every gas powered vehicle and machine as if it were a lighted match.

For the same reason fire departments warn against parking vehicles on leaf piles, avoid parking tractors or other farm equipment near piles of bedding, hay or litter in which hot engines can spark fires. Park all powered machinery and store all fuel outside the stable at all times. The convenience of having the machinery nearby is not worth the risk of engine heat, backfires and fuel spills.

Electrical inspections are vital!

 Thoroughly check and immediately correct weaknesses in the electrical system, and make sure the work is done by a licensed electrician who knows how the system will be used. Frayed wiring, short circuits and other electrical problems cause one out of every seven barn fires. In addition to deterioration due to aging and weathering, wiring which is not run in conduit, is subject to direct damage by chewing rodents (and sometimes horses), equipment collisions, and wear and tear. Have additional electrical outlets installed on new circuits instead of relying on extension cords. For the utmost safety, have all wiring run through conduit and operating on circuit breakers which, unlike fuses, can’t be reset until the triggering electrical problem is fixed. In wash stalls and other watery areas, have ground-fault circuit interrupters installed. If living quarters are part of the barn complex, include those electrical and heating systems in maintenance programs.

Keep stable appliances to a minimum. Do not use space heaters in the tack room or barn. Some barns restrict radio use to battery-powered models. Overloaded electrical circuits can heat wiring to ignition levels without the ability to be aware of the failure. Cage light bulbs to prevent breakage and cover switches so roaming horses can’t turn them on. If laundry is being done in the stable, install and vent the dryer well away from combustible materials, and keep its vent lint-free.

Sounds like alot?  It is – but this is not all you can do. Come back tomorrow for “the rest of the story” on preventing horse barn fires.

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