Top 10 ways to help prevent barn fires

Inspection and care of electrical systems, whether permanent or temporary, is part of a fire prevention plan in barns, says the agriculture department

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Barn fires are a year-round concern, but most occur in the winter. The colder months are generally the time when feed and bedding storage is greatest, electricity use is high, and equipment repairs and upgrades are made. It is an important time to be extra vigilant. When it comes to barn fires, prevention is key.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), in collaboration with representatives from fire protection and response, insurance, university, farm and commodity organizations, recommends these top 10 safety practices to reduce the risk of fire. These practices can be done without making major changes to building structures or equipment. The Ontario government recently released new resources on farm fire safety.

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1. Focus on housekeeping

Maintaining a clean and organized barn is a simple and cost-effective way to reduce the likelihood of barn fires.

2. Limit use of temporary electrical equipment

Extended use of temporary equipment can increase the chance of a fire occurring through degraded outlets and extension cords. Make sure to hard-wire electrical equipment that is used regularly.

3. Regularly inspect and maintain permanent electrical systems

The humidity and corrosive gases generated by livestock and the storage of manure can degrade permanent electrical systems. The Electrical Safety Code has specific requirements for the installation of electrical equipment within livestock housing areas. For more information, see Section 22-204 and Bulletin 22-3-5 in the Ontario Electrical Safety Code and the OMAFRA factsheet, Electrical Systems in Barns.

4. Perform hot works safely

When using such things as welders and blow torches make sure to do the work in well-ventilated areas outside buildings. If the work needs to be done inside farm buildings, ensure the area is well-ventilated, remove all combustible materials, place non-combustible pads under the work area, and have a fire extinguisher readily accessible.

5. Participate in a risk reduction assessment with insurance or fire departments

Many insurance companies and fire departments offer onsite reviews or risk reduction assessments for farms. Take advantage of these opportunities to help identify potential risks and get recommendations to address concerns.

6. Prepare and implement a fire safety plan

A fire safety plan can help ensure a farm operation is regularly maintaining safety equipment, avoiding or reducing high risk activities and is prepared to respond to a fire.

7. Regularly inspect and maintain fire walls, fire separations and attic fire stops

Fire walls, fire separations and attic fire stops can slow the progression of a fire within a building and increase the time for people to escape.

8. Regularly maintain heaters

Ensure heaters are properly installed, regularly maintained, and suspended well above combustibles or where they cannot be damaged by livestock.

9. Store and maintain motorized equipment away from livestock

Motorized equipment, such as tractors, produce significant amounts of heat, even after being turned off and stored. This heat can dry debris caught in the equipment and cause the material to ignite. In addition, motorized equipment can develop electrical/mechanical failures that provide additional sources of ignition.

10. Store combustibles in a designated location away from livestock

Combustibles such as straw or oil provide the fuel to feed a fire. Isolating these materials in a separate area reduces the risk of a fire spreading throughout the barn.

Visit the OMAFRA website for more details.

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