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Barn fire safety

To protect your livelihood or your family pets, here are steps you can take to keep your barn standing strong.

The idea of a barn fire can keep even the most confident livestock owner up at night. Barns are susceptible to accidents in many forms, but fires can often be the most devastating. To protect your livelihood or your family pets, here are steps you can take to keep your barn standing strong.

Keep it tidy
In most instances, just keeping your barn clean can prevent barn fires.

"The main thing in preventing barn fires is good housekeeping," says Laurie Loveman, veterinary assistant and member of the Highland Hills, Ohio, Fire Department. "Take cobwebs, for instance. You sweep them up, then a few days later they're back. But they can spread fire from one end of the barn to another."

Keeping aisles and doorways clean and free from obstructions can help cut down on fire risk.

Fire drills
Yes, it might sound a little bit like revisiting your elementary school days, but having a well thought-out escape plan for both animals and people in the barn is essential. During a fire is not the time to decide on how best to get out of the building.

It is a good idea to post the fire escape plan in the tack room or somewhere where all will see it regularly. Make sure everyone is familiar with the plan.

Hay, straw, shavings
Common but highly combustible substances like hay, straw, and shavings can pose a substantial threat to the safety of your barn-dwellers. Unfortunately, there's not much that can be done practically to prevent the risk.

"The hay, straw, shavings, and beddings should ideally be in a different building at least 150 feet away," Loveman advises. "But it's such a labor-intensive job to haul them from one building to another. Nobody is going to do that."

If you aren't willing to store your combustibles separately, try to keep only a few days' worth in the barn at a time. In the case of hay, you should also be certain that it has been dried and cured well. It's important to note that baled hay does have the potential to self-ignite, particularly when improperly processed.

Sprinklers
While expensive, the idea of installing a sprinkler system is a good one. "I am a firm believer in sprinklers for any structure where an oxygen-breathing animal, including people, resides," Loveman says.

The comparatively fragile respiratory system of many barn animals means toxic gases created by a fire are capable of killing your animals within mere minutes, possibly before you're even aware a fire has started.

Even if water supply is an issue where you live, a sprinkler system will keep the gases down and the fire in check long enough for the fire department to arrive.

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