Barn fires can present unique obstacles for firefighters who often deal with residential or commerical structure fires.

Barn fires rose this winter


Buckeye Farm News 

An unusual number of barn fires this winter has prompted the state fire marshall’s office to issue an advisory that landowners take a look at their structures and do what they can to prevent the fires.

In the first five weeks of 2009, Ohio had 18 barn fires, according to Shane Cartmill, public information officer for the Division of State Fire Marshall. During the last weekend of January, the state had several barn fires, prompting the fire marshall’s advisory.

“The occurrence of fires has slowed down tremendously,” Cartmill said. “Maybe getting the word out has had an effect.”

Since 2000, 4,938 barn fires have been reported in Ohio, claiming five lives and injuring 64 people and 136 firefighters, according to the state fire marshall’s office. Those fires have caused more than $77.8 million in damages. The department does not track livestock losses. Cartmill did not have a damage estimate for this year’s fires.

“It concerns me that so many firefighters are being injured in barn fires. Firefighters face obstacles and hazards they wouldn’t in residential or commercial structure fires,” said State Fire Marshall Michael Bell.

Barns can burn quickly, especially if they are filled with straw and hay or house equipment containing fuel, Cartmill said. Rural locations also can be a challenge for firefighters if there is not a readily available source of water. And the heavy timbers used to build barns without firewalls or fire stops are dangerous for firefighters.

“Winter time is very common for any type of structure fire because residents are spending more time indoors building fires or using alternative heat sources to save on bills. For barns, it’s not uncommon to use heating sources to keep livestock or equipment from freezing, which can cause an increase in fires,” Cartmill said.

Bell said the fires have been caused by arson, farm equipment, hot ashes, smoking and fireworks.

“There is reason to believe many of the fires are the result of arson,” he said.

At the end of December, Columbiana County was hit by a rash of barn fires that appeared to be the work of arsonists, said Nick Kennedy, an Ohio Farm Bureau organization director. He said the fires stopped after Ohio Farm Bureau, the county Farm Bureau and the state fire marshall’s office offered rewards for information about the fires.

“Unfortunately it does happen. For now, it’s quieted down,” he said.

With winter typically being not so busy for farmers, Cartmill recommended that they do some housecleaning in their barns to help prevent fires. That includes knocking down spider webs, sweeping up loose hay and checking cords on electrical devices.

“Anytime you have some down time is a good time to do some housecleaning. Anything that can be done is that much more in helping prevent a fire,” he said.

The state fire marshall’s office urged fire departments to work with local farmers and barn owners to make their barns safer.

“Talking about this through the media or having someone from the fire department talk informally with a farmer or landowner helps,” he said. “Fire prevention has to start at home.”

Tips for keeping your barn safe:

                  Eliminate items that start fires. Don’t store fuel, paints or solvents in the barn.

                  Enforce a no-smoking policy in and around the barn.

                  Don’t keep coffee pots or hot plates in the barn.

                  Ensure that electric service to the barn is fire code compliant. Wires should be the correct gauge and enclosed in a conduit.

                  Farm equipment, including tractors, mowers and trimmers, should be properly maintained and in good running condition. The equipment should never be started in or near the barn.

                  Warming fires and bonfires should never be built near the barn. Hot ashes and coals should not be disposed in or near the barn.

                  Store hay separately from where machinery is stored. Hay should be dry before it is put into the building.

                  Fire departments should identify barns and water sources before there is an incident.

Source: State fire marshall’s office


Lynn Snyder 

Lynn Snyder is senior director of communications for Ohio Farm Bureau.

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