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Horse stables are (or should be) well ventilated. Hay, straw, shavings, cobwebs, and wood are highly flammable. Add a bit of heat or a spark to that highly flammable, well ventilated material and a barn fire can easily happen.

The following are suggestions for fire prevention and emergency management. Recommendations are not comprehensive and do not replace the need for professional consultation. Professional advice from a fire safety expert is highly recommended in planning your fire safety plan.

Have a Plan

  • Post fire and emergency numbers by the barn phone

  • Post the barn physical address and any special driving instructions next to the barn phone

  • Post other emergency contact information next to the phone

  • Designate paddocks and space well away from the barn (several hundred feet or more) where horses can be temporarily housed during fire (and other) stable evacuations

  • Teach your family and employees the fire procedure for your facility

  • Every stabled horse should have a halter (that fits!) and attached lead rope hanging on the stall door. Leather is preferable as a nylon halter will melt in heat.

  • Human safety is top priority, ensure your safety and that of others in all fire situations before attending to the animals

  • When removing horses during a fire
    o Follow the instructions of the fire department
    o If it is safe for you to enter the barn:
       - Remove the horses closest to the exit first
       - Handle horses one at a time
       - Lead the horses from the barn into the pre-arranged paddock
       - Maintain control of all horses until they are secured in the designated holding area (do NOT let them run loose!)
       - Keep horses together; a lone, stressed horse could create another set of risks

No Smoking: There is a place for smoking in or near a barn. Post “no smoking” signs and enforce a strict no smoking policy.

Fire Extinguishers: Your barn should have fire extinguishers next to each exit, next to the electrical utility box, and at roughly 30-40 foot intervals throughout. There are different types of extinguishers designed for a variety of fire types (electrical, ordinary combustible, liquid combustible). Experts recommend ABC extinguishers, which are considered general purpose, for stables.
Extinguishers need to be inspected yearly and recharged by a licensed professional. If you and your barn help do not know how to use a fire extinguisher you should attend training. Check with your local fire department for course offerings near you.

A water supply at the outside of the barn is a must for fire fighters. Installing water hydrants at the outside of either end of a stable is highly recommended.

Regular Cleaning: A cluttered, unkempt barn is fire friendly. Cobwebs, excess bailing twine, dangling hay, and the haphazard storage of combustibles create an environment that encourages the spread of fire. By maintaining a neat, clean barn and regularly sweeping cobwebs and loose hay from your barn and stall walls, aisles, and rooms you help to eliminate options for fire spreading.

Do you keep your old bailing twine? This (hanging or draping fabric/rope) makes a good fire spreading device and should be removed.

Barn doors should always be accessible, even those that are not often used. All doors should open fully either by sliding or opening out (rather than in). Barn aisles should be kept clear of debris.

Electrical Devices: All electrical wiring should be professionally installed and inspected. Electric wiring should be encased in conduit throughout the barn. The electric box should be installed away from the barn exits. All barn lights should be caged and designed for barn use. Electrical equipment should be unplugged and properly stored when not in use. Fans, clippers, blowers, and other electrical equipment should be cleaned regularly with compressed air to remove dust and debris.

Water heaters should only be used when you are in the barn. Water bucket heaters create significant fire risk because they heat as long as they are turned on. Once the water bucket is empty, or if the heater is knocked out, the water heater will continue heating and could melt plastic water buckets and ignite stall bedding and hay.

Hay & Bedding: Hay and bedding should be stored in a separate storage facility well away from the stable and equipment storage. In the event that hay must be stored in the stable, ground storage is best provided the hay is stored in a separate area enclosed with fire retardant walls and ceiling. The second best option is storing hay overhead in a loft again separated by fire retardant materials or fire retardant coated materials.

Typically in the summer when fresh hay is harvested and put up into storage, many horse owners are ultra-diligent about monitoring fire hazards as they recognize the potential for the core of the hay bale to become heated during the curing process. It can take as long as 6 weeks for hay to finish curing, during which time the internal temperature of particularly moist bales may reach 150 degrees or higher.

Experts recommend checking the internal temperature of curing hay by poking a thermometer into the middle of the hay stack. If the temperature reaches 150 degrees it should be monitored every four hours. In the event that the internal temperature reaches 175 degrees contact the fire department. Under the supervision of the fire department, remove the hay from the barn. The fire department can put out any fires that ignite as a result of exposing the smoldering hay to oxygen.

Tractors & Equipment: Tractors, equipment, machinery, fuel, and petroleum products should be stored in a separate facility well away from the stable and hay storage area. Grass, hay, leaves, manure, and other easily flammable materials should be removed from equipment before storage.

Stable Construction & Design: If you’re constructing a new stable you should consult with fire safety experts to identify the best design and materials to incorporate to retard and prevent fire. A few items to consider may include the use of fire retardant materials and coatings in construction, lightening protection, layout, exit plans (all doors should slide or open out), water sources, storage areas, accessibility for emergency personnel, etc.

When choosing a professional to install fire prevention devices you should first verify their credentials. For example a lightning rod installer should be certified by the Lightening Protection Institute.

A good resource for more information on fire prevention and safety is the Pennsylvania College of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet at http://www.abe.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/g/G100.pdf.

In a joint effort to help educate the horse world, this tip is brought to you by the Kentucky Horse Council (www.kentuckyhorse.org)  and KAM Animal Services, home of KAM’s “Equine Learning Circle” FREE monthly webinars and weekly tips. The Kentucky Horse Council is a nonprofit organization dedicated, through education and leadership, to the protection and development of the Kentucky equine community. To register for the next webinar go to www.kamanimalservices.com  or sign-up to be notified when a new tip comes out.

Kentucky Horse Council recommendations for fire safety can be a starting point for fire prevention planning but are not a substitute for the exercise of reasonable care and may not be appropriate for all situations. Farm owners must comply with all applicable government regulations, should always purchase fire insurance, and should follow all protocols required by their insurance carriers.