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October is fire safety month

Laura Kieser, University of Minnesota Extension Educator

Published in Dairy Star October 27, 2012

Fires can be devastating to farm businesses as well as farm families. The U.S. Fire Administration reported that between 1996 and 1998, there were an estimated 20,000 fires each year on U.S. agricultural properties. Agricultural fires are responsible for nearly 50 civilian injuries, 25 fatalities, and $102 million in property loss each year.

According to the Farm Safety Association, the leading cause of agriculture fires is open flame caused by candles, matches, bonfires, sparks, static electricity, friction, welding and equipment. Other causes of fires may include natural resources such as spontaneous combustion and lightning.

How fires burn

The elements necessary to create a fire are fuel, heat and oxygen. These elements constitute the fire triangle. Removal or control of one element will remove or control a fire hazard.

Fire classes and fire extinguishers

It is important to know the classes of fires and choose appropriate fire extinguishers for your farm. Fire extinguishing equipment can be classified into two types; portable and fixed. A portable, ABC rated fire extinguisher is most practical for agricultural use, capable of extinguishing Class A, B or C fires. Also, be sure to have large enough extinguishers on hand and have them placed where they are easily found and reached when needed.

Control of fire hazards

Cut down and remove weeds and brush from around buildings. In buildings, check for accumulation of dust, feathers, cobwebs and other potential combustibles. Reduce and keep unneeded items that will burn away from heat. Arrange shops and barns so that flammables are safely away from ignition sources. Use approved electrical installations including proper fuses or circuit breakers, waterproof outlets, enclosed electric motors and similar equipment in any buildings that are cleaned periodically with high-pressure equipment.

Inspect all wiring and electric motors and appliances for exposed wires, broken insulation, improper grounding and incorrect installations. Motors should be cleaned and oiled (if necessary) each season, and pulley belts should be in good working order. Check LP gas and fuel oil system for leaks and unsafe installations.

Minimize hazards on site

Strictly enforce a no smoking rule inside buildings or areas where flammable materials are stored and from shipping or receiving areas where boxes or other containers can easily start a fire. Keep flammable liquids away from open flames and motors that might spark. Never smoke when refueling.

When transferring flammable liquids from metal containers, connect the containers to each other and ground the one being dispersed from to prevent sparks from static electricity. Clean up spills right away and put oily rags in a tightly covered metal container. Change your clothes immediately if you get oil or fuel on them.

Flammable liquids should be clearly marked and stored in approved containers in well ventilated areas away from heat and sparks. Keep above ground fuel storage tanks at least 40 feet from buildings.

Store compressed gases in a secure upright position, away from heat sources in an outdoor location. Keep different gases separately and full cylinders apart from empty cylinders. When heating with propane, keep 100-pound cylinders at least 15 feet away from heaters; keep large tanks at least 25 feet away.


Re-fuel machinery with care. Watch for and repair leaks in fuel lines, carburetors, pumps and filters. Keep engines properly tuned and timed to avoid backfiring and exhaust systems in good condition to avoid sparks. Keep machinery properly lubricated to minimize friction.


Always have a fire extinguisher on hand when welding or soldering. Watch for molten metal as it can ignite flammables or fall into cracks and start a fire that might not erupt until hours after the work is completed. Use portable cutting and welding equipment in clean work areas.

Keep flammables at least 35 feet from a hot work area. Be sure other tanks and other containers that have held flammable liquids are completely neutralized and purged before you work on them.

Spontaneous combustion

Many materials under certain conditions heat spontaneously. Store vegetable and animal oils and paints or linseed-soaked rags in sealed containers in cool, well ventilated areas away from other combustibles. Avoid storing wet hay and check stored hay for warm spots. If hay temperature is noticeably warmer than when it was put in, watch it closely. If the temperature reaches 175 degrees F, get the hay out or divide it into small, shallow stacks.

Watch for silage danger signs such as heat, release of moisture, vapor or steam, smoke, or a charred tobacco smell. A fine chop permits the material to be packed more firmly in both trench and upright silos. Also, a silo designed to be sealed should be kept closed, except for loading or unloading.

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