Farm fire safety: 7 ways to mitigate fire risk

Rural response takes time, learn how to protect your farm with fire safety best practices. Reduce the risk of equipment damage, animal loss, and more.

a peaceful rural setting with a wheat field leading to farm with storage silos, set against rolling hills and forest in the background.

A fire on your farm could have devastating effects on your farming business. A fire could damage important equipment, your barn or farm buildings, or even cause a loss of animal or human life.

Due to the typical rural location of farms, it can take longer for a fire department to respond to a fire emergency resulting in more damage.

Luckily, farm fires can be prevented by following fire prevention practices. Practice farm fire safety to help reduce the risk of a fire on your farm, by following these tips to help mitigate the risk of a devastating fire.

1. Beware of electrical risks.

Heat lamps, extension cords, exposed or damaged electrical wires, and loose outlets can all post a significant risk. Heat from lamps could ignite dust or cobwebs that have collected, and damaged wiring could cause short circuits or electrical sparks that could ignite nearby flammable materials.

Regular maintenance and testing of electrical systems are important farm fire safety tasks. A trained professional will go through your farm buildings and barns to check for any hot spots, damaged wiring, and other risks. They will provide recommendations for things to update to help prevent a fire.

2. Complete routine inspections.

While it is crucial to inspect wiring for electrical fire risks on a regular basis, it is also important to ensure that fire protection systems are inspected. The inspection is also a great time to check fire extinguishers to ensure they are in good working order. All farms should keep fire extinguishers readily available in all farm buildings and mounted on equipment.

Routine inspection can identify any deficiencies or issues while also ensuring compliance with national and local regulations and codes from organizations like the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

3. Control potential ignition sources.

Keep potential ignition sources away from farm buildings and equipment. Enforce a strict no smoking policy in and around all farm buildings. Keep your equipment motors and engines clean, and complete regular maintenance to prevent overheating or malfunctioning. Equipment should never be parked by hay or other combustible materials.

Properly store flammable and combustible materials, such as gasoline, kerosene, and paint thinner. Make sure to properly label these materials and keep them away from other ignition sources. Ensure proper disposal of oily rags in the farm shop by disposing of them in metal waste cans with a self-closing metal lid. Oil-soaked rags are prone to self-ignition and could cause a significant fire hazard.

4. Practice care with machinery and equipment.

Farm equipment fires are common and can be caused by several different sources, such as smoking, improper refueling methods, overheated engines, and defects in the ignition systems. Keep an eye out for leaks, deterioration, or damage to equipment parts, and make repairs before using the equipment again.

Proper machinery maintenance and general farm fire safety measures can help prevent equipment fires. However, it is good practice to keep fire extinguishers mounted on all farm equipment. In the event of an equipment fire, the quick action of a fire extinguisher could help prevent the fire from spreading.

5. Keep buildings and equipment clean.

Remove cobwebs and accumulated dust from farm buildings as they are both combustibles. Keep areas around buildings clear of brush and weeds. This can help reduce the risk of a fire spreading between buildings if one were to start. Additionally, ensure proper clearance and manage creosote buildup if you have a wood-burning stove.

For equipment, such as a combine, remove crop residue on the engine and wiring harnesses on a regular basis. A leaf blower is an easy way to remove the debris while out in the field, but a power washer is another good option that can help remove excess grease and oil too.

6. Install a lightning protection system.

A lightning protection system can safeguard your buildings and equipment. Air terminals (also known as lightning rods) can be placed on building roofs, and they help ensure lightning will strike them and not another part of the building. Lightning arresters should be installed at all electric service entrances to buildings. They can protect interior wiring and electrical equipment from power surges caused by lightning. Ungrounded wire fences can be dangerous for livestock and humans near the fence when lightning strikes it. It is important to ground wire fences to prevent potential fires and hazards to livestock and humans.

7. Store hay properly.

When hay is baled and stored at high moisture levels, it can spontaneously combust. Wet hay can create a chemical reaction causing heat to build and start a fire. To reduce fire risk, bale and store hay only when its moisture content is less than 20% and monitor the temperature.

Unfortunately, despite best farm fire safety and prevention efforts a fire could still happen on your farm. In the event of a fire, having a business continuity plan in place can help you get back on your feet faster. Talk to your SECURA risk management consultant to learn more about how you can protect your farm from fire risks and set up your business continuity plan.

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