Preventing Barn Fires

As the weather heats up and the conditions get dry, learn how to prevent a fire in your barn.

From AQHA Educational Alliance Partner Country Living Association and Laurie Loveman of firesafetyinbarns.com.

Don’t overlook a potential fire hazard in your barn. Take the time to learn about a few common fire hazards that you might miss in your day-to-day barn chores.

Box Fans

Did you know that many barn fires start by trying to cool down animals in the barn? The No. 1 cause of barn fires in the summer is inexpensive box fans that are meant only to be used in your house. Because the motors are not sealed, dust and dirt get into the motors, making them heat up and catch fire, melting the plastic housing.

Also, the cords on these box fans are not durable enough for barn use. Livestock can chew on the cord, and out it goes. Motors in agricultural or industrial-level fans are sealed and are much less likely to catch fire.

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Good Housekeeping

Most barn fires are preventable. Since many common barn items are flammable, the best way to prevent a barn fire is good housekeeping. Keep hay swept up, and aisles and doors clear. Even the smallest things can trigger a barn fire – a pile of oily rags laying on the floor that somebody didn't throw out or cobwebs that can spread a fire from one end of a barn to another in seconds.


Don’t accept any load of hay that is not completely cured, because heat is generated during the curing process. Clover and alfalfa hay seem to be particularly prone to incomplete curing, and first-cutting alfalfa is often subject to this problem.

In a stack of uncured hay, two fire propagation requirements – fuel and heat – are at work. The only thing lacking in sufficient quantity is oxygen. The hay might smolder unnoticed for quite some time before the edge of the stack is reached. When that happens, and oxygen is suddenly available in abundance, you have a full-blown fire on your hands.

The same process might occur with damp grain, sawdust or wood shavings, too, and in these situations, an explosion could result, due to the greater amount of exposed surfaces in the material. The presence of chemical reactions leading to spontaneous heating and ignition can be detected by a “sooty” odor, and sometimes, mild eye irritation when in the immediate vicinity of the hay stack. If you have the slightest suspicion that spontaneous heating is occurring, call your fire department.

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In most cases, a fire department cannot arrive in time if your barn catches fire, so prevention is key. Horses in particular have a fragile respiratory system; a minute or two may be all it takes for them to die of smoke inhalation.

For more fire safety tips, visit Fire Safety in Barns. And for tips around the farm, visit the Country Living Association.

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