|No other word in the English language can
strike more fear than the cry, "Fire"! And the thought of a fire raging
through a stable full of horses is doubly terrifying. Horses plunging and fighting for
freedom from the searing flames as handlers and owners make valiant attempts to save the
animals they have come to respect and love, are sight and sounds one never forgets.
Some horses in a barn fire may be saved -
but others will die an agonizing death, as their stalls fill with smoke, and then the
intense heat of the oncoming flames causes the bedding to flash into one huge fireball,
engulfing all and everything it touches.
Stables' construction, their location, hay
storage, tack area, and horses' comfort are always considered in the building plans for
any barn. But what about fire prevention? Shouldn't the thought that goes into the
building be expanded to include fire prevention? And for barns already built, what
precautions should be taken to prevent fires? And what measures taken if fire does strike?
In the 1970's, Union Carbide Chemicals Company's Fire Protection Engineering
Division conducted fire tests and studies on race track stables for the New York Racing
Commission. Later the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association and the Horsemen's
Benevolent and Protective Association issued a joint report on a study of California race
track stables. Then, the national Fire Protection Association published an "Occupancy
Fire Record" (FR 63-2) describing the results of fires in race track barns and
stables. These combined findings were interesting and, in some cases, startling, in facts
Of the fires investigated by the aforementioned
agencies, 90 percent were located at race tracks. But fires are not limited to race track
stables or barns. Race track fires were investigated because of insurance requirements
before payments were made for property damage reimbursement - and because they received
national newspaper coverage.
But what about the average stable or riding
academy? They, too, suffer fires, which in some cases are more disastrous then race track
fires. One fire in Oregon completely razed a riding academy housing 75 horses. All horses
were burned to death - and the holocaust wasn't discovered until the next morning when the
owner came to feed the horses and found the barn in ashes with dead and dying horses still
in burned-out stalls!
Unlike race tracks, which have grooms living in
quarters, not all stables and riding academies have on-site residents. People come and go
as they like - feeding their horses, riding, and enjoying their mounts. So like the Oregon
stable, a fire can rage out of control with no finding out until it's too late.
Most stables are long and narrow containing from
10 to 60 stalls, and have Dutch door arrangements with the lower half of the stall door
closed, leaving the top half open for ventilation. Some have open rear doors leading from
stalls to paddocks of various sized.
Tests in a 12x12 foot stall, using two bales of fresh straw, showed that in
fast fires in one minute's time, temperatures reached 375 degrees F, 15 feet above the
floor. The clean-burning fire raised air temperatures rapidly.
A similar test, using slow burning straw, did
not develop noticeable quantities of smoke, and the temperature 15 feet above the floor
reached only 150 degrees F, during the first one and one-half minutes. As the fire
continued to burn, dense smoke developed, and in three minutes 30 seconds, the temperature
reached 250 degrees F.
An animal will be able to survive a fire less
than one foot in diameter and/or temperatures at the 15-foot level of less than 150
degrees F. However, if a fire starts in a horse's stall, the animal in that stall seldom
has more than 30 seconds to be rescued, before suffering fatal burns of smoke inhalation.
It has been proven that in one or two minutes, a burning bed of straw will generate more
heat than a pool of burning gasoline! Horses in adjoining stalls have have up to five
minutes to be rescued, depending upon stall construction and separation.
For some reason, stable owners don't consider
putting in an automated sprinkler system. A sprinkler system suspended in each stall and
down an alley way will save the barn and horses. Most stable owners look at the initial
cost and shake their heads. What they fail to realize is that with a wet sprinkler system,
their yearly insurance premiums can be cut as much as 50 percent. When you figure that out
over five, ten or 15 years, you're talking about quite a chunk of money - thousands to be
exact. The original cost of sprinklers can be spread over a three- or five-year period.
Some stable owners try to build a stable as cheaply as they can. And about the only
argument you can say to those people is, what do you figure the life of a horse is worth?
Building to protect against fire is an ideal solution, but for stables and
barns already built, common sense rules will help to minimize the danger of barn fires.
Let's face it - horses don't start fires, people do! And in the hot, dry summer climate of
California, wild fires are a guaranteed annual event.
Every barn should be off-limits when it comes to
smoking. "No Smoking" signs should be placed on entrance doors, plus a couple in
the barn to help people who forget to remember. For those that must smoke, a smoking area
should be established complete with sand buckets for cigarette butts. A cigarette ground
out in the arena dirt may not be out. It can smolder for hours and days among shavings and
straw before flaring up into a possible holocaust!
"Cleanliness next to Godliness" should
apply to the barn. Aiselways should be kept clean of paper scraps, litter and spilled hay.
Tack boxes should be placed against the wall, so aisles are clear for quick exit in case
of an emergency.
Never use rubber- or plastic-covered wiring.
Horses and mice can create havoc with it. Use metal or PVC conduits. If wiring is already
installed, check it periodically for worn and hot spots.
Overloaded fuses are a menace. Coffee
pots, clippers, and electric heaters all running at the same time can blow fuses. Don't
overload electrical outlets, and if extension cords are used, use the heavy-duty ones and
check for rubbed and cracked areas.
store flammable liquids in closed tack boxes or tight spaced where they might get hot.
Aerosol spray cans left in the sun can build up pressure and heat, and literally explode!
Fire extinguishers should be charge and checked
to make sure they work, then hung in places that everyone knows about for emergency use.
It does no good to have a fire extinguisher, if no one knows where it is or how to use it.
Ideally, there should be a telephone on the
property, with emergency numbers clearly posted on it.
Leading a horse out of a burning barn is not
easy. A saddle blanket, shirt, sweater, etc. should be placed over the horse's eyes. The
animal can then be led to safety, with a belt or piece of rope. Smoke doesn't frighten
horses; it's the sight and sound of flames that panics them. Once the horse is outside, if
a corral, pasture or arena is far enough from the flames to be safe, turn the horse loose
there. But beware; a loose horse will return to its stall regardless of the flames around
it. In the mind of the horse, that stall is a haven of safety.
It's a good idea to state periodic fire drills, so
people know what to do in case of fire. Or at least tell everyone what to do in case of
fire. First, notify the fire department (directions to the barn can be typed on cards,
inserted in a plastic holder, and tacked to the wall by the phone, so it's easier and
faster to give directions to the fire department dispatcher). Secondly, start to remove as
many horses as possible from the immediate danger area. Don't play hero by trying to
rescue horses trapped in burning stalls. Sadly enough most of those will die from smoke
inhalation, even if freed. Rescue only those horses you can get to safely.
Saving horses is case of a fire depends upon
quick action. But preventing fires is still the best method - and prevention is