No barn is fireproof, but these steps can help minimize your farm’s risk.

It is a horrific sight: a barn engulfed in flames with terrified horses plunging about inside. It happens time and again at farms and racetracks across the country.

Can barn fires be prevented? Yes, according to extension agents at Pennsylvania State University and other institutions. Basically, they say, no building is completely fireproof, but farm owners and managers can take certain steps to minimize the chances of a fire occurring.

Causes of Barn Fires

There is an old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. However, with barn fires there almost never is a “cure.” Once flames are spotted, it is usually too late. Only if a fire is discovered in the smoldering (burning without flame) stage–which can last a minute or hours–is there a chance to effectively put it out.

Barns normally are loaded with dry, flammable materials such as bedding, hay, grain, and wood. When these materials ignite, they burn with savage intensity. Liquid fuel sources found in barns include alcohol, liniment, hoof paints, and creosote, among others.

While careless smoking and poor electrical connections are leading causes of barn fires, bacterial and chemical reactions, such as those that occur in recently baled hay, can also be culprits. A case in point involved a 2007 fire that killed seven horses at a Saddlebred stable in rural Minnesota, despite the best efforts of five fire departments. It is believed, according to news reports, that the fire originated in a load of hay that had been