Written by: Heather Clemenceau
In the last few months several devastating fires have made the news across Canada. For anyone who owns horses or manages farms, it’s terrifying to hear of a barn fire. Recently, we’ve all seen the horrifying aftermath of barn fires that killed 40 standardbred horses, 13 arabian horses, hundreds of chickens, milking goats, cows and in one fire alone – over 2,000 pigs in the news. Sadly, such tragedies are neither unexpected nor sufficiently shocking to alter the low standards of care permitted for these sentient, intelligent creatures. The horrific deaths of all these animals has callously been referenced in terms of “tonnage” in news articles.
There is a well-developed body of knowledge about preventing fires. The most obvious solution is to install sprinkler systems, which typically make all buildings safer. So why is there so much resistance by farms and agricultural businesses? The principal reason is that it is very difficult to install sprinkler systems in non-heated buildings or farms that rely on a well water system. In unheated buildings, pipes freeze in winter, and water pressure may not be sufficient to sustain water flow to sprinklers. The majority of barns will likely never have fire sprinklers, so it falls upon us as animal owners, farm owners, or boarders on farms to ensure we can mitigate risk as much as possible.
The Office of the Fire Marshal manages a database of all fire occurrences in Ontario. Analysis of occurrences has shown that the sources of many fires remain undetermined due to complete destruction of the buildings, but there are three leading causes of identifiable farm fires:
Source – OMAFRA
- short circuit or ground fault in electrical equipment
- failure of the built-in automatic controls in mechanical equipment or system
Misuse of ignition source or igniting equipment
- careless smoking, or smoking where flammable vapours are present
- ignition source left unattended
- improper use of extension cords (e.g. overloaded circuit, multiple strings in sequence)
- A commonly reported cause of fires in farm buildings is the misuse of equipment (i.e. arc welders, cutting torches or grinders) in the presence of combustible materials or gases without the proper safeguards.
- Fires reported in this group reflect human error and are preventable with best practice operating procedures
Design, construction or maintenance deficiency
- improperly constructed building feature or system
- improperly installed object such as a heating appliance that is too close to combustible building features
- improper maintenance such as failure to remove accumulation of combustible dust or debris, which is then ignited by heating appliances, process equipment or electrical equipment
- faulty product design causes a fire even when the product is installed and used correctly
Design, Construction or Maintenance Deficiency
- Improperly designed, installed or maintained building systems are another common cause of farm building fires. This includes heating equipment, lighting systems, process equipment and electrical distribution. For example, heat shields for a suspended radiant tube heater may become displaced with the use of a high pressure washer.
- Without the shields properly in place, the underside of the ceiling becomes too hot and increases the potential for ignition and fire. Although the design and installation of the equipment is correct, a maintenance deficiency would be identified as the cause of the fire.
Please Sign – Petitions for Farm Safety Reform
Equine Guelph has also put together an excellent resource, one of the best I’ve seen, to help farm owners avoid fires through common sense initiatives, and a few that aren’t so common. Planning ahead will also improve outcomes on your farm in the event you have to call first responders.