Tag Archives: pole building fires

Pole Building Burn Time

There are times when I wonder if some of our clients lay awake at night trying to think up new questions to ask our Hansen Pole Buildings’ Designers, which have never been asked before. In today’s question – Building Designer Brenda was asked what the “burn time” is on one of our buildings.

Of course I asked Brenda specifically what her client was looking for (seems there is always a Paul Harvey), however we have not gotten a reply, as of this writing.

I’ve written in the past about the fire resistance of wood: https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/blog/2012/04/fire-resistance-of-wood/

Pole Building FirePole (post frame) buildings, without special provisions being made, are not inherently any more fire resistive (or fire yielding) than the average stick frame structure. Think about it – they are both wood frameworks, so pole building burn time is comparative.

Methods are available to establish fire resistance, both as tested and prescriptive assemblies. https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/blog/2013/11/establishing-fire-resistance/

The American Wood Council publishes the NDS® (National Design Specification® for Wood Construction). Their Technical Report No. 10 contains formulas for Calculating the Fire Resistance of Exposed Wood Members. For those of you who are aspiring engineers or just enjoy playing with numbers and complicated formulas (and have an excess of time of your hands) it can be perused here: https://www.awc.org/pdf/tr10.pdf.

Much has been made, in the building community, as a resultant of the January 21, 2015 fire at a 240 unit Edgewater apartment complex fire. You can see the video here: https://search.yahoo.com/search;_ylt=A0LEVzNx12FVEoQAsBVXNyoA;_ylc=X1MDMjc2NjY3OQRfcgMyBGZyA2NybWFzBGdwcmlkA0JTbXJyUkZDU0VhNzFiUkhhQnYyb0EEbl9yc2x0AzAEbl9zdWdnAzQEb3JpZ2luA3NlYXJjaC55YWhvby5jb20EcG9zAzAEcHFzdHIDBHBxc3RybAMEcXN0cmwDMzEEcXVlcnkDRWRnZXdhdGVyIGFwYXJ0bWVudCBmaXJlIHZpZGVvcwR0X3N0bXADMTQzMjQ3NTc2Ng–?p=Edgewater+apartment+fire+videos&fr2=sb-top-search&fr=crmas

The fire prompted talk of legislation to toughen building codes. Fire officials who responded to the fire said it was worsened by lightweight materials, such as engineered wood, and an open, truss style roof.

“All wood burns, it doesn’t matter if its solid wood or little chunks glued together,” said Daniel Madrzykowski, a fire protection engineer with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The difference, he said, is a solid piece will take more energy from a fire to ignite and will burn longer before it loses its strength.

Back to pole building burn time…..the dictate of failure due to fire will be a resultant of the weakest link in the chain. Without the use of fire retardant treated lumber, sprinkler systems, or fire walls – it comes down to how quickly will a nominal two inch thick piece of lumber burn through?

In a typical pole building, roof purlins and floor joists (in multiple floored buildings) are likely to be the weak links which would result in a potential collapse. In the AWC NDS Technical Report No. 10, Appendix B, Table B1, is given the “Design Load Ratio Limits for Solid Wood Joists”. Whether 2×6 or 2×12, a member supporting no load (think of a roof with no snow), has a 20.4 minute structural fire resistance time. When loaded to 100% of capacity, the same members are good for 10.6 to 11.3 minutes.

Why might these numbers be the same? Because the members least dimension is the 1-1/2” thickness! This, in my humble opinion, is one more reason the Hansen Pole Buildings actual double truss system is advantageous. The trusses are physically connected together, creating a three inch thick member – hence potentially doubling the time for a structural failure due to fire.

Pole Barn Fires

Break out the Marshmellows…

I get Google Alerts for any articles with pole barn or pole building in them. Pretty much every day there are one or more stories about barns burning down (think of how many houses burn down every day in the USA and a barn a day is insignificant). As sad as a burned down barn may be, there is some humor to be found in some of these stories.

From a story by Everton Bailey, Jr. at www.oregonlive.com:

“The blaze was contained to the 40-by-100 foot barn, no people were injured but a search is ongoing for possible chickens that may have been in the area.”

Were the chickens arson suspects? Trying to escape to be free range?

Nothing like barbequed chicken!

From www.journalgazette.com:

“While firefighters fought the blaze, officials realized the pole barn, near the intersection of Butler and Hillegas roads, was actually outside the city limits.”

What were the city firefighters going to do, leave the pole barn to burn down because it was “on the other side” of a line?

From an article by Jeri Thomas at www.drgnews.com:

“The Pierre Rural Fire Department responded early this morning to the report that a large structure was on fire on property east of Pierre.  Department members were summoned to put out the fire in the large pole barn about 3:45 a.m. this morning-two miles south of Highway 14 near 206th Street.” 

BBQ Sauce“Also helping at the scene was the Oahe Chapter of the American Red Cross.  No other structures are located on the old farmstead near the pole barn, but Kruger says the 65 X 120 building contained farm equipment, balers, and feed.  Also, there were pigs in the building and Kruger says some of the animals succumbed to the fire.”

The American Red Cross supplied Sweet Baby Ray’s Barbeque sauce for the ribs afterwards.

And the winner of the “Darwin Award” is in this www.thetelgraph.com article by Greg Olson:

“A rural Winchester man was injured Wednesday evening in a fire that destroyed a 40-foot by 50-foot pole barn about 8 miles east of Winchester.

Rueter said Winchester firefighters were called to the Ben Brickey farm on Ratcliff Road about 5:30 p.m., and when they arrived they found the barn engulfed in flames. “We were told that Ben Brickey was attempting to light a wood stove in the shop portion of the pole barn when diesel fuel he was using to start the fire ignited and spread to his legs and a pile of firewood,” Rueter said. “At that time, his son Dillon took his dad out of the building and put out the fire on his father’s pants.”

I am sad to hear when anyone is injured, but sometimes I just have to shake my head and wonder “what WAS he thinking?”  What more could possibly be said after this?

Be careful folks – and keep fire extinguishers handy!

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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