While barn fires can happen at any time, winter carries with it added risks when farmers use heat lamps or other heat sources to keep livestock warm and dry. Approximately 40 per cent of all barn fires are caused by faulty electrical systems. For many, there’s no getting around using older barns and buildings, but there are several steps you can take to reduce the chance of a costly and devastating barn fire.
The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs has recently launched new resources to address barn fire risks and safety precautions, and the ministry has also released its top 10 tips for preventing a barn fire. (See end of the post for a link to videos and resources).
- Get cleaning: Maintaining a clean and organized barn is a simple and cost-effective way to reduce the likelihood of barn fires. Stray straw and dust can build up on outlets and wires; containers of flammable materials can get spilled or forgotten in a dark corner. It’s a dirty job, but worth the work.
- Turn off the heat lamps: Extended use of temporary heating equipment can increase the chance of a fire occurring through degraded outlets and extension cords. Make sure to hard-wire electrical equipment that is used regularly.
- When in doubt, check it out: The humidity and corrosive gases generated by livestock and the storage of manure can degrade permanent electrical systems. The Electrical Safety Code has specific requirements for the installation of electrical equipment within livestock housing areas. Make sure you’re inspecting electrical systems regularly, and refer to the code for areas you may need to upgrade or improve. Monitor the heat conditions of your barn using infrared technologies.
- Fix and repair carefully: When using welders and blow torches make sure to do the work in well-ventilated areas outside buildings. If the work needs to be done inside farm buildings, ensure the area is well ventilated, remove all combustible materials, place non-combustible pads under the work area, and have a fire extinguisher handy.
- Complete a risk assessment: Many insurance companies and fire departments offer onsite reviews or risk reduction assessments for farms. Take advantage of these opportunities to help identify potential risks and get recommendations to address concerns.
- Have a fire safety plan: A fire safety plan can help ensure a farm operation is regularly maintaining safety equipment, avoiding or reducing high risk activities and is prepared to respond to a fire. Make sure all family and staff are aware of the plan and protocols.
- Inspect and maintain fire walls, separations, and attic fire stops: Fire walls, fire separations and attic fire stops can slow down the progression of a fire within a building and increase the time for people to escape.
- Regularly maintain heaters: Ensure heaters are properly installed, regularly maintained, and suspended well above combustibles or where they cannot be damaged by livestock.
- Store and maintain motorized equipment away from livestock: Equipment, such as tractors, produce significant amounts of heat, even after being turned off and stored. This heat can dry debris caught in the equipment and cause the material to ignite. In addition, motorized equipment can develop electrical/mechanical failures that provide additional sources of ignition.
- Store combustibles away from livestock: Combustibles such as straw or oil provide the fuel to feed a fire. Isolating these materials in a separate area reduces the risk of a fire spreading throughout the barn.
Visit Ontario.ca/preventfarmfires for more details.