A sobering reminder…

We don’t know about you, but where we are it’s getting pretty freaking cold these days.  At the barn yesterday Jumper Girl had on a down jacket over top of a down vest.  She vaguely resembled a marshmellow.  Well, if you were to perhaps find a marshmellow in the manure pit and then roll it around in the hay loft in an attempt to clean it off.  But I digress…

The early nights and the cold weather are leading to a lot of lights being left on and space heaters being used.  In the past week there have been at least two brutal barn fires, resulting in equine fatalities.

Stable Fire in Texas Kills 11 Horses

One Horse Dies in Barn Fire

In both of these cases the cause has yet to be definitively determined, but they appear to be accidental.  In all likelihood they were caused by faulty wiring or a malfunctioning heater or something similar.  And since nobody wants to come to the barn to see something like this…

… we thought we’d take some time to talk about how you can minimize the risk of a fire in your barn.

Barns are filled with flammable stuff.  It’s just a fact of life.  Bedding, hay and the typically wooden walls that make up the structure are all things that will readily burn if given the opportunity.  So do your best not to give them the chance!

Make sure your electrical wiring has rodent proof housing.  And check on a regular basis that the housing is living up to its name!

Smoking is bad.  In a barn it is very bad. ‘Nuff said.

If you’re using space heaters, or have a barn laundry, don’t leave it unattended.  Better yet, unplug everything if you’re not around.  It can be a bit of a pain in the you-know-what to do, but many, many fires have been started by a malfunctioning appliance.  And rebuilding your barn is a far bigger hassle.

Clean up the cobwebs, especially around light fixtures.  It’s not just an aesthetics thing, cobwebs can be the barn equivalent of kindling.  And it does look prettier too!

Have all light fixtures and wiring be completely out of the reach of the horses.  Consider switching over to CFL bulbs instead of incandescent ones, if you haven’t already.  They remain much cooler and lower your electricity bill.

Be mindful of machinery and equipment.  I’ve seen a careless stablehand rest a gas leafblower on a hay bale when he finished blowing the aisle.  Not smart.

Check your hay on a regular basis for signs of mold and excess heat.  You can buy a temperature probe that’s designed specifically for the task, or simply use a metal rod.  Drive the rod into a hay bale, let it sit for about 20 minutes.  If, when you pull it out, it’s too hot to comfortably hold in your hand, your hay shed is likely on its way to becoming a bonfire.  Improperly cured hay can set itself on fire, and it burns fast and hot.  Monitoring the hay you have in storage is a great way of preventing that from happening.  If possible, store hay, bedding and other flammables in a separate building.

Finally, be prepared for the possibility that despite all your precautions, you may still have a fire.  Have a safe place you can evacuate your horses to and a plan for getting them there.  This plan should include a few different exit options.  Smoke alarms and fire extinguishers should be standard equipment and you should know where the nearest major water source is.

Most of it is common sense and we’re sure we’ve missed a few obvious points.  So feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments!  Let’s do everything in our power to make sure our horses don’t end up homeless or worse this winter.


About snarkyrider

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Posted on December 7, 2011, in horse, Misc Horsies and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. I might also add: keep a watch on your manure pile! And keep it away from the barn – even if it is a pain in the butt to lug your wheelbarrow even farther. This applies more in the summer when it gets ridiculously hot than in the winter, but it’s something to keep in mind. At one point this past summer, my coach had to call the fire department to send a truck to douse the manure pile because it kept smoking, and occasionally setting itself on fire. Now, this is when it was 30˚C and humidity was just about record-setting, but I get the feeling that people tend to forget that manure will catch fire, and can set itself on fire if it’s hot enough.

  2. I’d add these:

    If you MUST use a space heater, use the kind that is secured firmly to the wall. That way they can’t be kicked over or knocked over by the barn cat.

    Consider saving up for a sprinkler system. They’re expensive, but cheaper than a new barn. If you do have one, test it regularly.

    Keep aisles clear of debris…makes evacuation easier and helps overall barn safety.

    Keep halters on stalled horses. (Always use breakaway or all-leather ones for this, not all-nylon or rope). This makes it easier for people who don’t know much about horses to help evacuate.

    Never padlock stalls. No matter how much of an equine houdini you have (I once knew a Welsh pony who would routinely escape by climbing OVER a Dutch door. An 11h Welsh pony…).

    Make sure everyone who works or volunteers in the barn knows where the fire extinguishers are and how to use them.

    Do actual evacuation drills. Time them. How long does it take you to get every horse out of the barn and into the pasture, and how can you make this faster?

    If you lock the outside gate of your property, cut a couple of extra keys and drop them off at the local fire station. Same if you lock the barn door.

    • I disagree on he halters worn one, but think they should be by the stalls any any other stall exits at all times, even if there are just extra ones. Halters worn can cause way too many problems, like a rubbed face, getting caught and tipping water buckets/mangers etc…. even the leather ones don’t break when you need them to sometimes.

      • I’m with you on the halters issue. Also, people who don’t know much about horses should not be trying to evacuate them, they’re more likely to cause panic and even hurt themselves.

  3. I know people who won’t even let people walk into their barns with those heated buckets because they’ve been known to cause fires.

    Yeah, it sucks to break ice but it’s much better than a fire.

  4. Microchip your horses! When there’s fires and evacuation there is a LOT of confusion. Some horses get lost. Having worked as a volunteer in one of the many southern california fires (specifically the Agoura Hills fire in 2005) the biggest problem we had was getting random horses with no owner to claim them because the evac animal teams just go up and load who they can at a certain point.

    TEACH YOUR HORSE TO LOAD. Load in a simple stock trailer at very least! This should be basic for all horses but of course isn’t. When you need to get your horse out of there, or someone else does, you want them in that trailer. Animal rescue groups will try but only as much as is sane. Of they can’t get your horse in within a respectable amount of time they will move on to the next more willing animal.

  5. MarshmEllow? Sorry, the snarkiness just rubs off!

    This is a good and timely reminder, and your readers have come up with excellent points. Let’s hope we make it through the season without any loss.

  6. Keep in mind that the really scary part of a barn fire is that once the bedding catches on fire, your horse is gone in 30 seconds. That’s right. Thirty seconds. There are no second chances.

  7. Easiest way to prevent your horse from dying in a barn fire: Don’t keep horse in the barn.

    Seriously. It’s far healthier (do any amount of research on this point) for the horse to live in a paddock with a shed or, if you must, in a stall with a door to a paddock that is kept open 24/7.

    We humans think barns are so nice and cozy, which they are for… our species. Imagine if your horse designed your living environment based upon equine needs/desires? I doubt they would put you in a cage. Something to think about…

  8. I know this is an old post, but I would like to point out that Chance stables (in the picture you used) does follow all the fire safety precautions. As you said, fires still happen. It’s only because a very coordinated effort that only one pony didn’t make it out on time. There are over a hundred horses in that barn.

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