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Fire Safety & Prevention for Horse Barns and Stables

Barns and stables, filled with highly flammable hay, bedding, and feed, are a big fire risk. Add the presence of panicked animals and you have a recipe for a disaster if a fire breaks out.
Unfortunately, stable fires aren’t an uncommon occurrence. If you look in most stables, you can find wet hay stored near horses, oily rags, cigarette smoking, and overloaded or damaged electrical wiring and heaters. All these are leading causes of fires.

But these expensive and tragic disasters can be simply prevented by understanding the problem.

Hay is often stored in the same barn or stable with horses to save time and cost.

 This usually causes no problems, but many owners don’t realize that improperly cured and baled hay can cause a fire. Even good hay stored under a leaking roof can start fires. The best ways to prevent hay fires are to keep hay in a separate location, and make sure it is dry when stored and stays dry in storage.

There are many other causes of fires. Some common ones and ways of preventing them:
  • Overloaded or damaged extension cords. The simple solution to this one is just to not use extension cords. If it is unavoidable, use heavy-duty cords and only use one appliance per cord.
  • Damaged electrical wires—often caused by rodents, damaged wires can spark fires. Replace the damaged wires instead of wrapping them with electrical tape, which does not fix the problem. To prevent rodents from chewing wiring, run it through metal conduits rather than plastic or PVC ones. Also, stringing wires over nails can result in the insulation being damaged over the nail, causing a risk of fires. All wires should be properly strung through metal conduits.
  • Dust from hay or bedding. When this collects on electrical appliances, heaters, and fans, it can combust and start fires. Clean the interior of electric appliances regularly to prevent the dust from building up.
  • Smoking, if allowed at all on the ranch, should never be allowed in or near the barn. Smokers should light up no less than twenty feet from the barns.
  • Improper use of heaters—Heaters that blow directly on bedding, rags, or hay can cause severe fires because the heaters are often left unattended. Read the heater’s directions carefully, and make sure they blow into an open area free of flammable materials.
  • Rags and paper towels used to clean tack and hooves can spontaneously combust if soaked with oil or petroleum products and left in a pile. Don’t leave these rags in a heap. If they are stored so that the heat can safely dissipate into the air, rather than remaining trapped in a pile, there is little risk of fire.

The keys to saving lives—both human and equine—and property are early detection and quick responses. Stables, which are airy and filled with flammable materials, burn easily and quickly, so a fast response is essential. Indeed, many insurance companies consider a barn that is more than five miles away from a fire station to be essentially unprotected in the event of fire.

This is why smoke detectors are so important. Many fires will smolder, smoke, and give off gases before bursting into flame. Smoke detectors can sense these gases long before the building heats to the point where a heat detector is activated.

If a fire is detected, it is essential to respond as rapidly as possible. Some smoke and heat detectors can be set up to automatically alarm the closest fire station, either by an electronic message, automatic dialing, or other systems. If you have a fire in your barn or stable, here are the essential steps to take right away:

  • Immediately call the fire department or dial 911. Make sure that you clearly state that you have a fire in progress, and give the address of the fire. Don’t hang up until you are sure that the operator or emergency responder understands that there is a fire and has your correct address.
  • Warn everyone both in the inflamed building and in surrounding buildings.
  • Evacuate all the horses and animals from the burning building and surrounding stables into the pastures.
  • Switch off the power to the burning barn.
  • Start fighting the fire as lined out in your fire plan. You will likely be unable to quench the fire, but your objective is simply to prevent it from spreading until the fire department arrives.
  • Focus. Have one person in charge to prevent confusion and loss of time.

Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Taking the time now to perform these fire prevention steps can save a costly and dangerous fire later.

  • Clean the interior of electrical appliances, like fans and heaters.
  • Get rid of all lightweight or home-use extension cords. If the use of extension cords is unavoidable, replace them with industrial grade ones.
  • Store hay in a separate shed or barn, and buy only dry, well-cured hay. Make sure to keep the hay dry to prevent spontaneous combustion.
  • Store rags and cloths used to clean tack and hooves in a separate shed, when possible. Wherever they are stored, make sure they are not heaped into a pile.
  • Do not string wires and electric cords over nails. Replace all damaged or inappropriately run wiring with properly insulated wiring, strung through metal conduits.
  • Invest in cages around light fixtures. This prevents damage and sparking.
  • Store bedding materials away from the stable.
  • New buildings should be at least fifty feet, and ideally seventy-five feet, away from existing buildings. This reduces the risk of fires spreading between barns.
  • Frost-proof water hydrants should be installed near the entrances to each barn or large building on the ranch or farm, and it should also have a hose long enough to reach the far end of the stable, barn, or building.
  • Make sure that everyone is familiar with the fire plan. Post it in break areas in barns.
  • Make sure that your electrical system allows the power to be shut off to each building, without losing power to the water pumps. 

Read the next horse barns article on Horse Barn Basics.
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