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Extension > Agriculture > Livestock > Horse > Horse care and management > Barn fire safety

Barn fire safety

B. Gilkerson Wieland and J. Shutske, PhD, University of Minnesota

Recently, a large horse barn in Wright County, Minnesota burned, leading to several questions regarding fire safety in horse barns. Fire is caused when any type of "fuel" meets an "ignition" source. Hay and bedding material are common examples of fuel. Smoking, faulty electrical wiring, and improperly cured hay are common sources of ignition. The key is to minimize the potential for fuel and ignition sources to come together. Often, this is a matter of basic housekeeping. Here are some tips to help reduce your chance of a barn fire.

Identify ALL potential ignition sources, and take steps to eliminate them. For example, smoking should never be allowed on a property with horses. Electrical wiring must be done by a qualified electrician and inspected by a local building inspector or insurance expert. Lightning protection systems must be installed to code and maintained. Do not use extension cords except for short-term uses such as powering a tool. Make sure heating systems are properly installed and maintained. Store/buy hay only at the correct moisture (<17% moisture) and check its condition frequently. Hay over 25% moisture poses the threat of combustion. Commercially available hay temperature probes can be used to check the internal temperature of hay bales (the internal temperatures should be below 130° F) and stack hay to encourage air circulation (for more information see Preventing hay fires).

Take a close look at all potential ignition and fuel sources and how they might come together to start a fire. Take specific actions to separate these hazards. An example is a heat lamp located over bedding materials or any type of flammable surface. Liquid fuels should be stored in protected locations.

Look for immediate steps you can take. Things like "No Smoking" signs posted in barns and hay storage areas are not expensive and are effective if enforced.

Check wiring for obvious problems. Make sure no bare wires are exposed. Look for marks on the wire that indicate heating or arcing. DO NOT overload circuits. If you blow breakers or fuses, investigate and correct the problem. Do not use extension cords to replace fixed electrical wiring. Extension cords are a major fire hazard and can lead to an electrocuted animal or person. Make sure electrical motors on ventilation fans, heaters, and other equipment are well-maintained.

Separate hay and bedding from the livestock. Most insurance companies will only allow a small amount of hay to be stored in the same building as animals or require the installation of a firewall between where horses are housed and storage areas. Make sure that the areas around barns and other outbuildings are kept clear of brush, shrubs, woodpiles, and other materials that could feed a fire.

Install and frequently inspect fire extinguishers. Your insurer can advise you on the best type of portable fire extinguishers or fire sprinkling systems to install. Fires in hay or in wood structures will require large amounts of water.

Develop an emergency plan and post it in the barn. Everyone must know how and when to evacuate the barn, how the animals will be removed, and who does what. Go over this plan with everyone including family members, employees, and boarders. All buildings must have multiple unblocked exits that people and animals can get out of quickly.

Check local building codes and fire safety regulations. For more information contact your local city hall and visit with a city/township building inspector who can provide additional resources.

Consider installing emergency lighting and lit exit signs. This will help if the power is out or if there is a lot of smoke. Such lighting may be more important for commercial facilities

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