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Horse Barn Fires and Design
 By Winniefield Park   •   15th Mar 2016   •   2,136 views   •   0 comments
Horse Barn Fires and Design

January was a horrible month in the province Iím in, with several stable fires making headlines. The first was a stable of forty-two horses, mainly Standardbreds. Fire crews were helpless to rescue the horses trapped inside. Less than two weeks later another fire killed thirteen Arabian show horses. Where I live, itís said there are about 400 barn fires a year. Many are cattle barns, storage or hay barns. So they donít always get the media attention that horse stable fires get. Iíve written about the most common causes of barn fires before, and it always seems that the electrical system is the first thing investigated, especially if the fire happens during the winter. Water heaters, heat lamps, kettles, even hotdog makers can present hazards if not used properly, or if they malfunction. And, in some older barns, wire can become worn or rodent chewed. Inadequate wiring systems can also become overloaded, especially in winter. In the case of the Standardbred stable fire, the barn had electrical heating, which had been inspected in the fall for insurance purposes and itís been suggested that despite its passing grade, it was the source of the fire.

Related: My Horse and Eight Others Die in Tragic Barn Fire
Related: Most Common Causes of Barn Fires

There are many things you can do to prevent stable fires. Make sure your wiring is in good repair. Any electrical appliances or lighting should be made for outdoor use and used appropriately. Anything that involves the use of an open flame should be banned from stables such as heaters, torches or lanterns - and of course, smoking. But, despite all cautions, fires can still happen. And thatís prompting some animal welfare advocates to ask how we can not only prevent fires, but minimize damage, ensure human safety and save animals when it does happen.

Stable Design
Stable design is the first thing to consider. High roofs, poor ventilation, limited exits and construction materials and contents that are highly flammable all add to the fury of a fire. Once a barn fire has started, itís very difficult to douse. And once there are flames, itís often too late. In both recent horse stable fires, the blaze had already advanced so that no person could enter the building and the heat and pressure was blowing out the windows. Proper roof ventilation may actually slow down the progress of a fire. And, it may prevent the buildup of deadly fumes.

Many large barns donít have many entrances for horses and doors made for humans arenít easy to force a horse through in an emergency. So, the design of the buildings themselves needs to be looked at when it comes to fire prevention and rescue. Stall doors that open to the outdoors and multiple entrances can help when freeing animals in an emergency. And, all doors should be easy to open. Struggling with latches and sticky doors can waste valuable moments.

Many barns have no fire extinguishers or smoke detectors installed. You canít use the same type of detector as you have in your home, but there are units made specifically for barn use. And, all barns should have ABC fire extinguishers. ABC extinguishers contain a powdered chemical that can douse all types of fires. The ABC comes from Class A for trash, wood and paper, Class B for liquids and gases, and Class C for live electrical sources. So, this type of extinguisher would put out a fire that involved hoof ointments, straw and shavings or a frying overloaded circuit. One recommendation states that there should be extinguishers every fifty feet. Often overlooked is a functioning lightning rod, as lightning is responsible for many barn summer fires.

Ideally, although an expensive installation, stables should have overhead sprinkler or mist system in place. These systems will be activated when sensors detect high heat levels. They require an adequate water supply, which can be hard to maintain on many rural properties and during freezing winter months.

The stable yards need to be considered in an overall fire plan too. Laneways need to be clear and wide enough for emergency vehicles to enter. There should be a water source nearby. A burning loft will take thousands of gallons of water to bring into control. Tanker trucks may not be able to bring in enough water to fight a fire. And there should be secure pens or paddocks near to put horses in.

It would be almost impossible to design a stable that is completely fireproof, just as itís impossible to design our own homes so that fire is never a danger. But, planning and good design can mean greater safety for ourselves and our horses.
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