Hamilton Fire, Province calling for regular electrical inspections to prevent barn fires

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Published January 8, 2024 at 11:38 am

The Hamilton Fire Department and the provincial Agriculture Ministry are urging local farmers to get the electrical systems in their barns inspected.

“One of the leading causes of barn fires, approximately 40 per cent, is faulty electrical systems,” Hamilton Fire said on social media. “Corrosive environments cause degradation. Have your barn regularly inspected by a licensed electrician.”

Barn fires are a major concern for Ontario farmers, usually meaning a sizeable financial loss, tragic loss of livestock, farm operation losses including equipment, a business interruption, loss of production and extreme stress on the farm family.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) brought together several agencies and groups to address the problem and have published a book, Reducing the Risk of Fire on your Farm. The book includes several recommendations to prevent and reduce the impact of fires on the farm.

As farms have grown larger, farm buildings have increased in size and value. When these large structures catch fire, they are more difficult to put out and the financial losses are significantly greater, OMAFRA noted in a release. Data from the Ontario Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management show that the number of fires has been trending downwards over the past ten years as small farms are swallowed up by urban sprawl, but the value of the losses has been increasing due to the size of the barns and the increase in rebuilding costs.

While response to a fire is important, prevention is critical.

The Fire Marshall’s Office has been tracking barns fires and providing yearly data and determined that each year the leading causes for preventable fires were mechanical/electrical failure, misuse of ignition source/equipment and design/construction/maintenance deficiency.

Nearly half of all barn fires are from an undetermined cause due to the complete loss of the structure and contents, making it very difficult to determine an exact cause.

The data also revealed the primary sources of ignition are most often electrical distribution equipment (from circuit wiring to extension cords), heating equipment (space heaters etc.), open flames from welding tools or careless smoking distribution equipment, extension cords, etc.), as well as lightning strikes and spontaneous combustion from hay stored with too high a moisture content.

The insurance industry got in on the investigation as well and discovered the corrosive environment found inside barns has been determined to be the leading cause of degradation or failure of electrical equipment. The degradation is typically corrosion of the exposed metal components, such as wires and connections.

The Electrical Safety Authority now mandates the types of wiring and electrical equipment used inside barns and recommends that all non-essential equipment and equipment incorporating over current devices are installed in locations separated from the livestock confinement areas and supplied with clean, dry temperature-controlled air.

Equipping all buildings with proper fire extinguishers at each exit and in all mechanical and feed rooms is an excellent practice and regular housekeeping activities around buildings to remove potential combustible materials also helps prevent barn fires. The ministry produces a fact sheet, 10 Ways to Reduce the Risk of Barn Fire.

Monitoring and inspecting your buildings and equipment also goes a long way in preventing fires:

  • Have all buildings inspected and maintained regularly by a licensed electrical contractor.
  • Develop a preventative maintenance and housekeeping schedule to reduce the risks of a fire.
  • Monitor the heat conditions of barns using infrared technologies.
  • Work with the Hamilton Fire Department and your local insurance company to identify problem areas and fix any trouble areas identified.
  • Ensure the right number of fire extinguishers in good working order.
  • Discuss a plan with family and employees on what to do if there is a fire.

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