Ten Tips to Prevent a Barn Fire


10 steps you can take to prevent barn fires.

Several years ago we lost our goat barn in a fire.

Not only did we lose the two-year-old metal pole barn, we lost our winter supply of hay, our livestock feed and supplies, and all of the Chief’s hand and power tools. We didn’t even have a shovel to clean up the mess.

But by far the biggest loss was my herd of 16 dairy goats.

This post was updated and rewritten in August 2020.

Even though it’s been eight years, I’m still not able to go back over all the details of that day. My thoughts skirt around what happened, but there is a place in my brain where the hardest memories are still locked tightly away, unvisited.

Ever since that day, I’ve been on a mission to save barns. I want to save your goats, your horse, your rabbits and barn cats, and to keep your winter supply of hay and feed safe and secure. You'll find my tips to prevent fires further down in this post.


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The goat barn


Our wood-framed metal building housed our dairy goats, their hay and feed, with the Chief’s workshop in one corner. The wide runway down the middle allowed the goats to mingle as a herd, with stalls on the back side for kidding and to separate kids from the does overnight.

One stall held feed, another was my milking "room" and back in the corner was the stall where my English shepherd Pete herded the goats in the morning so they wouldn’t run me over as I carried buckets of grain and set up for the morning milking.

When the morning chores were finished, the goats were let out into their outside pen for the day, and moved back into the barn in the evening.

Our generator, wood chipper, mowers, and so on were stored in the front of the barn near the overhead door, and on the other side of the door was a stall we’d converted into a pen for our blind cat Betsy and her companion cat Fairy.

The cause of the fire


On that cold January day, I did the evening chores a bit early and tucked the goats into the barn for the night. It wasn’t dark yet, but I had dinner to prepare…

Afterwards, the fire chief pointed to the corner of the building where the fire had started, where my milking stall had been. One of the weanling does had evidently jumped on the milk stand and stretched her head up to bite an electrical wire.

I knew which one it was, even before I was told what color she was. Lark, the pretty white doe kid, was always the adventurous one, leading the other kids into trouble and poking her head where it didn’t belong.

From there the flames spread across the straw-covered floor to the machinery, where gasoline accelerated the fire.

And that, my friends, is as far as my mind can go. I keep the rest blocked out. Maybe someday I’ll be able to write it down or to talk about it, but eight years hasn’t been long enough.


Ten tips to help you make a barn fire safety plan.

Ironic: this panel was part of our generator, which we lost in the fire.


How ironic


I think it’s ironic that this happened to me – to us, of course, but … to me. I’ve always been fire cautious and I had a good fire safety plan in place. My family thought I was obsessive.

My maternal grandfather raised horses and had a large white sign on his front gate with black handpainted letters commanding NO SMOKING. No one, and I mean no one, was allowed to smoke on his property.

(Can you imagine my shock when we bought hay two years ago from a local farmer, who then sat down on a square bale in his own barn and lit a cigarette? I was speechless. And the look on the Chief's face told me I'd better stay speechless, so I bit my tongue - but it was nearly bleeding when we drove away a few minutes later.)

My father was a great example of being prepared, of having a plan and practicing it. We had fire drills and earthquake drills. We never put anything on the stairs in our two-story home because it could impede our exit in an emergency.

So I was extra careful about fire safety. I worried constantly during wildfire season here in Oklahoma, scanning the horizon several times a day. We kept the brush down, exits clear and smoking wasn’t allowed.

I never used a light or a heater in the chicken coop in the winter, and I raised chicks in the summer heat so I didn’t have to use a heat lamp in the brooder.

And yet, we had a fire.


Make a barn fire safety plan with these ten tips.


The blessings


My motto is that there is always, always something to be thankful for. Sometimes you have to look really hard, but there are blessings in everything.

Yes, even in this situation there were blessings.

  • While I’ve wished I’d been in the barn and could have prevented this from happening, or at least gotten some or all of the goats out, I myself might not have made it out of the barn. The feed stall, where I probably would have been, was in the opposite corner of the barn and there were no windows or doors nearby. The fire could have trapped me inside, and I know I would have been more focused on getting the animals out than on my own safety.
  • Our dogs and the barn cats all came back home over the next couple of days – all except Betsy and Fairy of course, who sadly had been trapped inside the barn with the goats – but the others were unhurt.
  • We suffered little collateral damage. We had to replace the tires on our trailer that was parked next to the barn, and we replaced the headlights and the melted bumper on our pick-up. It could have been much worse.
  • A neighbor brought us a bag of feed for the horses that night. Friends and even strangers donated hay. 
  • A friend brought her husband and son to bury the goats so I would be spared that ordeal.
  • Someone organized a work party: a group of friends and our 4-H club members came to help us clean up. They even brought shovels, realizing we might not have any.

    Barn fires are a year-round danger


    According to the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS), barn fires are common during both the winter and summer.

    Winter barn fires are often the result of heating equipment; fans are one of the leading causes of summer barn fires.

    Spontaneous combustion of hay bales and lightning strikes also top the list no matter what the season.

    How to make a fire safety policy for your barn


    Decide on the basic rules that must be followed in your barn - by yourself and by any visitors.

    Write down your list of fire safety rules. Writing something down helps to cement it in your mind so you are less likely to forget.

    Hang the list in a prominent place, such as in your barn’s tack room or near the barn door - and enforce the rules!


    Lark was the most likely perpetrator of our barn fire.


    Ten tips to help prevent barn fires


    1. No Smoking Allowed - hay, straw and dried-out manure are all highly flammable. Hang a No Smoking sign in your barn to let visitors know they shouldn't light up.

    2. Don't allow debris to pile up in or around your barn. Clean up old wood and piles of dead brush and trash.

    3. Store hay, straw and bedding in another building, not in your livestock barn.

    4. Inspect the electrical wiring for worn spots or damage from rodents. Electrical wiring should be run through conduit for the highest level of safety. (That tip right there could have prevented our fire. We thought the wiring was high enough that a goat couldn't reach it, but I'd put the milk stand right there...)

    5. Fans are one of the leading causes of summer barn fires. House fans are not made to withstand the dust in a barn; dust can clog up the motor and cause a fire. Use a fan made for use in a barn, available at farm supply stores such as Tractor Supply Co. or at Amazon.

    6. Cobwebs and dust are flammable and allow flames to move rapidly from one end of the barn to another. Use an old broom to keep your beams and walls cobweb-free.

    7. Check light bulbs in your barn. Don't allow them to collect dust and dirt. Keep light switches and outlets free of dust.

    8. Keep a fire extinguisher in the barn and know how to use it.

    9. Don't store flammables in the barn. Gasoline and gas-powered machinery are obvious, but how about those bottles of fly spray, cleaning products and other flammable materials? Find another place to store them, such as in your stock trailer.

    10. Create a defensible space around your barn to slow down or stop the spread of fire. Trim tree branches so that they are at least ten feet from the roof and keep grass and brush trimmed within a thirty-foot perimeter of your structure.

    Review your fire safety plan at least twice a year, perhaps when the seasons change or when we change the clocks to and from Daylight Savings Time.

    Right now is a good time to check your list of fire safety precautions. Take an afternoon to inspect your barn for these problems, and if you find a discrepancy, fix it immediately.

    While you're checking your fire safety list in the barn, apply these tips to your home as well. You probably don't store hay in your house, but the rest of these tips apply to homes and other structures too.


    Ten tips for barn fire safety


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    Related posts:
    How to prepare for winter storms
    Get ready for tornado season
    Make an emergency grab-and-go binder



    10 steps you can take to keep your barn safe from a barn fire.

    How to make a barn fire safety policy and prevent a barn fire.


    This post has been shared at some of my favorite blog hops.


    ~~~~~

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    21 comments

    1. The dust is a real biggy to take care of - it's certainly dangerous as Hell. Every year over here a couple of grain silos go up because somehow the airborne dust has ignited. We're certainly familiar with fires here in Victoria, so I'll keep my fingers crossed for you there.

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    2. Thank you, Stephen. Isn't it amazing that something so innocuous as dust can be so dangerous?

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    3. I don't have a barn, but my home backs up to a Ponderosa pine forest in Arizona and wildfires are always an issue. We had a fire assessment a few years ago and were made aware of a bunch of things that would protect our home in the event of a forest fire. Thanks for sharing this and thanks for linking up at the Weekend Blog Hop at My Flagstaff Home!

      Jennifer

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    4. Sometimes it takes another pair of eyes, doesn't it, Jennifer? That assessment might save your house someday.

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    5. We're about to move to 20 acres and will have a full fledged barn for the first time in our homesteading careers. I really appreciate all this advice as I probably wouldn't have thought about it on my own. Thanks for sharing at From the Farm today!

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    6. Tessa, that barn will be a blessing to you!

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    7. Wow! That's a lot to remember! Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us on The Maple Hill Hop this week.

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    8. This is a great post and a very timely reminder. We have fire issues here where we live and we try and keep all our lawn green to help prevent our house being burnt. Thank you for sharing at Good Morning Mondays. Blessings

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      1. That's an important part of defensible space, Terri. Keeping the grass green and short is an excellent tactic.

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    9. Always good things to remember! Thanks for sharing on the (mis)Adventures Mondays Blog Hop. I can't wait to see what you share this week!

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    10. I stumbled across your blog just now, I'm super glad I did. I hope you don't mind if I share my (recent) barn fire story.

      Early yesterday (approximately 6:30) we were awoken to loud police sirens and told our barn was on fire. Inside were many barn cats, some chickens (who aren't supposed to roost in there!), 5 sows (2 of them with babies) and a milk house addition that housed our baby chicks. We lost the entire dairy barn and cow free stall shed connected to it, along with the lean-to area which housed one of the Momma pigs and her 8 babies. That was likely were the fire started...by a heat lamp. Because it was full of straw bedding and bales to use as wind blockers (Momma pig unexpectedly had her babies in there so we had to improvise). It then spread to the hay mow above and it was over. The fire had already been going for a awhile when we were asleep. We lost Momma and her 8 little ones. Shockingly the other 4 pigs made it out alive, along with the cats...they were in there for a long time and the firemen told us early on that "no one survived". Frankly I still can't believe it. I'm still extremely devastated over the loss of the sow. My family are first time pig farmers and we bought these girls only a couple months ago. Even though I only knew her for a couple months I still loved her.

      The surviving mother of 4 piglets, along with the 3 other gals had to be put in a outdoor shed thats not completely enclosed. Luckily we have tons of stacks of large straw bales we used to build her a den. We were debating letting the piglets stay with her and nurse naturally but run the risk of freezing vs. hand rearing them indoors where its warm. Decided to bite the bullet and put them outside with her and try to make it as cozy as possible. They survived the night. :) Now onto your blog post! Though it is fairly snuggley inside her nest, no drafts can be felt. I still worry about them getting too cold once the temperature drops more. I had been searching for some premade piglet jackets but they don't seem very common. I thought other jackets like ones for kids and lambs would be too large on them. I even debated buying a dog jacket. The trouble with that is pigs are built very uniquely...long in the body, thick neck, short legs. But! Your goat coat post got me thinking about using a long sleeve shirt sleeve for a jacket. :) I made a prototype tonight. So hopefully it works.

      So I just wanted to say I really appreciated your blog post :) Thank you

      (Sorry for the long block of text~!)

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      1. Anonymous10:11 PM

        I also used heat lamp the first year I had chickens, not long ago. It went down to 17 here in SC, where we normally enjoy very short winters, some days in our shorts. I mounted the lamp at the highest point in the coop, thinking it was safe. I did not even know about fable dust at that point. Luckily, I read an article explaining everything that could go wrong. Chicken freaks and flies off perch right into lamp, feather or piece of hay floats up and ignites, just very scary. I got rid of it and don't feel cold for them after being educated on their heating system.

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      2. Anonymous, they're able to stand more cold than we give them credit for. Better safe than sorry.

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    11. D, I'm very sorry to hear about your fire and the loss of one of your sows and her piglets. I know you are still in shock right now. A barn fire is such a tragedy, especially when we lose animals.

      I hope your "piglet coat" fits and will work out. Hopefully the babies will snuggle with their mom and be warm enough. I think they'll be ok as long as you can keep the drafts under control, and it sounds like you've done an admirable job of that.

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    12. I hadn't thought about the motor in a fan getting clogged with dust...very good to know! Thanks for sharing these tips...certainly an eye opener.

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      1. Dust is very dangerous and so hard to keep under control! Most people don't even give it a second thought. I'm glad you've found this helpful, Lisa.

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    13. Such a terrible loss. Thanks for sharing the tips. I don't have a barn but our float cabin is far from any services for fire fighting. We are very careful and always turn our power off when we leave for more than a few hours. When I lived in California there was a terrible barn fire at a boarding stable. Most of the horses were lost. The few that survived had terrible burns. A girl moved her horse to our stable to be treated. It took a very long time and lots of medical treatments to heal the wounds on the horse's back. - Margy

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    14. Thank you for this article! We're a couple of years away from our "forever farm" and I hadn't considered a few of these things. I'll bookmark it for when we get our barns set up!

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    15. Anonymous4:54 PM

      Kathi, your post made me cry - for the goats, the cats, your losses, but at least you were able to find some things to be thankful for, and that's such a good way to live your life. I'm not a homesteader, not even having good luck with my one tomato plant this year as something ate all the tomatoes (maybe the rabbit I saw on the deck) but I do enjoy your blog and thank you for sharing your life. Blessings!

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      1. I'm sorry I made you cry, but thank you for your empathy and caring spirit. {{HUG}}

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    16. I saw your link on the Tuesdays with a Twist Blog Hop. Thank you for these tips! We don't have a full-fledged barn, but we have a chicken coop and other structures. I haven't considered many of these fire safety tips and will be implementing them. Thanks again!

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