University of Vermont

Don't Give Barn Fires A Chance

While we don't hear about barn fires often, they do happen, and when they do, there is usually heavy damage not only to the barn but to attached buildings, livestock, tools and equipment stored in or near the barn along with personal loss and livelihood. Taking a few simple steps can help you prevent tragic losses in the event of a fire.

Are you prepared in case a fire breaks out on your farm? Developing a farm fire pre-plan with the help of your local fire department will make it easier for them to control the fire more quickly.

You can download the University of Vermont Extension Farm Fire Pre-Plan datasheet at http://www.uvm.edu/extension/agriculture. Click on "Safety" then scroll down to the section on "Fire."

On the form there's a place to provide your E911 address and a map of all the buildings, utilities, access roads and water sources on your property. You also can include information on family members and employees, locations of hazardous materials and stored feed and the number, type and location of animals. Keep one copy in your files and give the other to your local fire department. Be sure to update annually or any time anything changes on the farm.

Fall is a time of transition from outdoor work to more indoor activities for most. When checking your barns and other outbuildings to make sure that they are properly prepared for colder weather, pay special attention to any source of supplemental heat as heating equipment is one of the biggest fire dangers on the farm.

This equipment needs to be properly maintained and installed to provide the warmth you want without increasing the fire risks that may come along with use of the unit. Old stoves may have cracks that can throw sparks, so be sure to go over that old piece and determine if is still safe to fire up.

Maintain safe space around the unit with no combustibles within at least three feet. Do you have a fire board under the stove and in front the door so that hot embers can not fall directly on the floor? Also, is there a fire board behind it or to the side to protect the walls?

Stovepipes and chimneys are another common source of problems. Old, unmaintained stovepipes are prone to small pinholes, gaps, loose joints and even see-through thinness. Get rid of them and put up new, complete with sheet metal screws to connect each joint securely.

When was that chimney cleaned last? Is it sound, free of crumbling bricks, with a safe liner? If you are unsure of any of these questions, it would be wise to contact a certified chimney sweep or mason and have it inspected. And do it now before the heating season really hits us.

Clean up leaves, lumber and trash from around the perimeter of every building as these provide a direct pathway for fire to enter a building. Check your town's burning regulations. Most outdoor fires need a permit, especially if the ground is bare with no snow cover. And keep in mind that no treated material can legally be burned, only natural wood.

Many barn and outbuilding fires start as a result of blowing embers from an outside source. These can be from burning brush piles, leaves or other refuse, which often are too near the buildings. Watch the weather and wind direction and never burn upwind of buildings.

Who would do that you say? Unfortunately, too many building fires that I've responded to as a volunteer firefighter over the years have started just that way.

Another cause of building fires is old, worn, frayed wiring and outdated electrical systems. As you grow and expand your business, you will keep adding to the electrical load. When was the last time you had a certified electrician evaluate your electrical demand and service entrance panel? Do you have the capacity that your farm has grown to need?

Overloaded circuits are a real danger. Those old two-wire outlets need to go. Barns and outbuildings usually are prone to moisture problems. So that means that all wiring needs to be properly grounded and Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter outlets or circuits need to be installed.

These are but a few of the reasons why you need to be vigilant about preventing barn and outbuilding fires although the information is pertinent, whether you are on your farm or in your home.

Here's a parting question. Do you have a sign with the number of animals that are typically housed in each building posted by the entrance? In case of a fire, this would be very helpful to responding emergency crews. This information should be part of your farm fire pre-plan developed for and with your fire department.