What to Do If You Have a Barn Fire

#1 Remain Calm

The most important thing to do is remain calm. The situation may be perilous, but panic is only going to make it worse. Panic can create situations that endanger lives. Take a deep breath, stop, and plan.

#2 Survey the Scene

This is the most important and most often forgotten step. IF THE AREA IS NOT SAFE, GET OUT! Botched acts of heroism will only jeopardize lives and the structure. Look and see what the fire is near. A smoldering pile of hay is not nearly as deadly as one smoldering near bags of fertilizer. Take a quick inventory of available resources. Are there other people present? Use their skills in the most efficient manner possible. Remember, because of their behavior patterns, horses are the most difficult domestic livestock species to evacuate from a burning barn. Always send the most qualified person to do the task. Persons who are not qualified to do the task are more of a liability than assistance. A person who is unfamiliar with operating a fire extinguisher may spread the fire. Someone unfamiliar with the behavior of a panicked horse puts others, themselves, and the horse in greater danger. If the area is unsafe to enter, don’t put yourself or anyone else at risk. Be alert for potential hidden dangers. Firefighters cannot concentrate on saving the horses until they have rescued the people.

Investigating a smoldering hay stack or mow is especially dangerous. If smoke is seen or smelled in hay, do not attempt to move it or walk on it. Disturbing the hay may expose the smoldering sections to oxygen, causing it to flash quickly. Smoldering cavities are prone to collapse. Burned out cavities may collapse under weight and trap a person who was attempting to stand or walk on the bale.

Surveying the fire scene only takes a fraction of a second, but is the single most important step to ensure everyone’s safety.

#3 Call 911 or the Fire Department

Regardless of the size of the fire or potential fire, call the fire department. Even if the fire was contained without professional help, contact the fire department immediately and have the area inspected to ensure the fire has been completely extinguished. Firefighters are trained, certified, and experienced in fire control. It is better to catch a blaze in the earliest stages than have it get out of hand.

Be sure that whoever is calling the emergency dispatch operator is capable of giving clear, concise directions and other valuable information. Also include the county, state, and municipality if using a cell phone. The nature of the fire (barn fire, hay storage shed, etc.), how far the fire has gone (still smoldering, flames erupted, structure totally engulfed), and whether any people/animals are trapped in the structure are invaluable pieces of information for dispatching emergency crews.

#4 Evacuation

If time permits, get the horses out and into a safe pasture. Once the flames have erupted, the fire will spread quickly and pose an immediate danger to life. Put horses in a secure, fenced area, as far away from the commotion as possible. During a fire, many situations are present that can distress even the most “bomb-proof” horse. Loose horses running amid the lights, sirens, and moving trucks can be hit, injure firefighters, or even run back into the burning barn. Using a pasture right next to the barn will endanger the horse(s) and inhibit fire-fighting measures.

Courtesy of PennState Extension