Late summer and early fall typically bring dry, hot weather in many parts of the US. While we’re battling the heat and trying to keep our livestock hydrated, fire is another threat to the farm when it’s dry.
Here are some tips to keep in mind to help prevent the tragedy of a barn fire.
In Your Barn
What occurs in and immediately around your barn is a critical factor in fire prevention.
First and foremost, prohibit smoking. Period.
A discarded butt is all it takes to set off a flame in a barn where, by its very nature, prime kindling in the form of bedding, dust, dried forage and other flammable equipment resides.
Secondly, a small but mighty farm investment is a fire extinguisher.
Depending on the size of the barn (or if you have multiple facilities), you may consider multiple extinguishers in well-marked areas. Make sure you know how to use the type you have and educate others on how to use it as well.
Smoke detectors are another reasonable investment to make.
If possible, consider storing feed and bedding materials such as straw and hay or shavings in a separate location. Not only is this helpful for pest control, but it also reduces the density of flammable materials adjacent to the barn and animals.
Likewise, consider the parking location for machinery and cars. Keeping gas tanks and other gasoline-infused materials far away from the animals in a barn is always a good practice.
Keep paint and other flammable maintenance materials out of the barn for the same reason.
While fans and other electrical appliances are indispensable and commonly used in barns, wiring presents a fire hazard, especially when exposed to the elements and pests such as rodents and birds that may chew and fray cords. If you have exposed wiring throughout the barn, make a habit of routinely checking it for signs of wear and replace accordingly.
Not sure how to evaluate wiring and other electrical aspects on the property? Consider having a qualified electrician visit annually for an inspection.
A special consideration unique to the agricultural sector is hay. When hay is cut, it is not always completely dry (or cured). As the hay continues to dry after baling, chemical reactions take place that produce heat.
If a hay bale is baled and stacked tightly, the center of the bale may not be able to dry completely. Instead, as it sits, temperatures within continue to rise. In rare instances, temperatures can become high enough to result in spontaneous combustion.
This is most likely to occur within roughly six weeks of baling. Older bales that have been sitting around for months are not likely to burst into flames.
If you are concerned about a fresh hay delivery not being dry enough, examine it with a temperature probe. Temperatures above 150 degrees F within a bale are at risk of combustion.
Call your local fire department of advice on how to safely mitigate this fire risk.
Outside Your Barn
A few fire hazards exist outside of the barn, as well.
Lightning strikes are a common cause of fire in some places—especially a farm on flat, open countryside.
If your barn is the highest structure within the immediate area, consider having a lightning rod (or multiple rods) professionally installed on your structure to direct any strikes safely into the ground.
If you utilize a compost pile to dispose of animal waste on your farm, be aware that this can generate heat and therefore must be managed properly. If not, temperatures that reach above 180 degrees F pose a risk of spontaneous combustion, like incompletely dried hay bales.
Frequent monitoring of the temperature of the compost pile in the summer helps prevent interior temperatures from rising too high. Regular turning of the pile and/or breaking it up into small piles to increase exposure to ambient air circulation reduces the overall temperature.
Being aware of the fire risks unique to your property and geographical location are key to prevention and preparedness.