'Exploding' Manure Blamed for California Barn Fire

Los Angeles County, California, fire authorities believe burning manure could have caused a barn blaze that claimed the lives of four Friesian horses.

Los Angeles County Fire Department spokesman Rick Flores said fire department personnel responded to an emergency call about a barn fire in rural Palmdale in the early hours of July 27. Upon arrival, firefighters found the barn fully involved in fire, Flores said. Four Friesian horses, including a pregnant mare and a 4-month-old foal, and a herd of goats were in the barn at the time of the fire, he said.

“All four horses and seven goats were killed,” Flores said.

Fire inspectors said the blaze was likely caused by accidental spontaneous combustion.

“Also the inspectors said they could not rule out exploding manure,” Flores said.

Burning or “exploding” manure is a very real cause of barn fires, said Rebecca Gimenez, PhD, president and primary instructor of Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue. The phenomenon occurs when bacteria found in manure multiples, heats up, and mixes with oxygen, she said.

“That's why you sometimes see smoke rising from a manure pile,” Gimenez said.

Warm, humid conditions can cause manure to ignite and start a fire that is fed by other combustibles such as spider webs, she said.

“The manure is said to 'explode' because the fire burns so quickly,” Gimenez said.

Thus, Gimenez reminded owners to pile manure well away from farm structures: “You can't prevent the bacteria from multiplying. That's why we recommend that manure be kept a least 50 feet away from the barn.”

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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