Preventing Barn Fires

Kent McGuire – OSU Ag Safety and Health Coordinator

Barn fires can be a farmer’s worst nightmare. The majority of barn fires end with tragic, costly, or even heartbreaking outcomes. These losses can include loss of human life, livestock, or valuable equipment and in many cases loss of the barn structure itself. The majority of barn fires end up being a result of lack of fire safety knowledge and even carelessness. Many barn fires could be prevented by: good barn layout, a usable fire plan, and clear policies about how the barn and equipment should be maintained.

One of the most important steps to take is to create a fire plan. Have fire and emergency contact numbers posted in prominent locations in the barn. Make an evacuation plan with at least two exit routes. Plan an emergency exit route for livestock that leads to a fenced area away from the barn, also consider how to prevent livestock from trying to re-enter the barn while it is on fire. Finally, teach family or employees the fire plan and walk through it at least annually.

Additional barn fire prevention tips that can be used to minimized risk of a fire include:

- No smoking should be allowed in or near the barn. Post signs!

- Maintain good housekeeping by removing combustible materials such as feed bags, oily rags, hay debris, excessive dust, or stored fuels.

- If flammables such as fuels must be store in the barn, isolated them in a safe areaway from ignition sources and consider using a flammable storage cabinet.

- Make sure electrical wiring is in good condition. All breaker panels and electrical boxes should have the proper covers in place. Keep all electrical components clean, free from layers of dust or cobwebs.

- Use industrial grade extension cords, keeping them out of reach or travel path of livestock to prevent them from stepping on or chewing the cords. Also, do not connect several cords together; use a longer cord for longer distances.

- Place fire extinguishers strategically in barn near electrical panels or potential ignition sources. Check the extinguishers regularly.

- In a barn or building, maximum travel distance to a fire extinguisher should not exceed 75 feet. Add additional fire extinguishers if needed.

- Portable space heaters should not be left unattended and turned off when you leave the area.  Space heaters should also have a shut-off device that activates if the unit is knocked over.

- Follow the manufactures guidelines when using water tank heaters, heat tape or heat lamps. Keep heat lamps the recommended distance from combustibles such as bedding, cardboard boxes or dry lumber.

- Store hay and other feed properly to prevent spontaneous combustion. More information about proper storage of hay or straw can be found at

For more information about the OSU Ag Safety visit or contact Kent McGuire, OSU Agricultural Safety & Health, at or 614-292-0588.