It seems throughout the year, every couple of weeks we hear of another barn fire in the media. The often disastrous results can be tragic for farmers, especially if livestock, buildings or equipment are lost. The loss of income is detrimental for farms. Barn fires can also draw the attention of the general public who may have concerns about animal welfare if animals are lost.
In 2014, Ontario farmers experienced $28.4 million worth of damage due to 150 different fire incidents (most recent stats available).1 While there is a general trend to fewer fires, the cost of each fire has increased due to the shift towards larger farms, more technology and bigger buildings. The $28.4 million cost is associated with building structures. (but not equipment, agricultural products or livestock)
A leading cause accounting for approximately 40 per cent of all barn fires according to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) is faulty electrical systems.1 Another 40 per cent were reported as undetermined due to the complete loss of the structure.2 Other causes are spontaneous combustion, lightning, heating equipment and open flame.2 Many fires could be prevented with proper preparation, inspection and maintenance.
Electrical irregularities and tidiness
During 2017, electrical issues topped the list of common problems found during routine inspections, reported Daily Commercial News. Wiring can become damaged by rodents as well as after prolonged exposure to environmental factors such as moisture and corrosive vapours. This can lead to exposed wires and connectors which can cause increased resistance at the damaged points allowing more energy to be converted to heat since it cannot easily flow through the circuit. The rise in temperature can ignite nearby materials or equipment, based on information shared by OMAFRA.
One of the biggest problems in barns involving electrical and wiring the South Easthope Mutual Loss Prevention team sees is buildup of dust and cobwebs around outlets, motors and light fixtures. This is especially common in feed rooms and hay mows. We know farmers are busy on the farm, but time spent routinely cleaning things up can go a long way in fire prevention.
Aside from wiring problems, another big concern is related to extension cords. If an extension cord must be used, make sure it’s uncoiled completely, not touching any surrounding materials, not placed near standing water or snow, and is approved for its intended use by a third-party rating agency. Farm operators should never leave one unattended, especially in a confinement barn, near livestock or too close to bedding.
Building and structural factors
Canadian regulatory bodies offer clear guidelines for safe building practices that can contribute to fire prevention. New builds need to adhere to the guidelines that include firestops and firewalls. For the most up to date guidelines, farmers should check agricultural building codes in their jurisdiction.
Inspections and monitoring
OMAFRA recommends having your farm buildings inspected and maintained regularly by a licensed electrical contractor. Develop a preventative maintenance and housekeeping schedule to reduce the risks of fire around your barns and other property. South Easthope Mutual has a Loss Prevention team that would be more than happy to work with to identify hazards that could lead to a fire. Give them a call.
Detection and safety
Agricultural buildings have different requirements for fire detection than residential properties. Smoke alarms made for homes are not adequate for fire detection in large, open barns as these alarms are too quiet for active farms and might go off too late after a fire has started, wrote William Eppich on Fire Safety for Barns. While it never hurts to have traditional smoke alarms in office areas, make sure to have commercial grade smoke detectors and bells loud enough to alert workers even if no one is in the facility.
Heat detectors are a more reliable method for fire detection, as they’ll detect when any area or component is overheating rather than just detecting the byproducts of an active fire. This type of detection can allow farmers to act ahead of time and remove a heat source before ignition.
A barn fire is what nightmares are made of for farmers, especially livestock farmers. Although all fires may never be prevented, maintenance, inspection and proper building in the first place go a long way for prevention. If you are insured with South Easthope Mutual and a fire does happen, your policy is there to protect you. But if we all do everything to prevent fires in the first place, you and your company will be stronger and better off.
Please visit the websites below for very detailed information and more resources on preventing barn fires.
*The photo used for this post was from a planned barn burn for training and research by the North Perth Fire Department. South Easthope Mutual was invited to watch.