A Dozen Horses Perish in Alabama Barn Fire

Fire investigators are blaming a lightning strike for a barn fire that killed 12 horses and several other animals.

Capt. Frank McKenzie, public relations officer of the Huntsville Fire and Rescue Department, said his department responded to a 911 call on Jan. 11 concerning a fire at Cheval Farm in Huntsville, Ala. The Green Mountain Volunteer Fire Department also responded to the blaze.

“Crews arrived to find the barn fully involved in fire,” said McKenzie said. “Crews tried to extinguish the fire, but the barn was a total loss.”

Twelve horses died in the fire, McKenzie said. Cheval Farm barn manager Lindsay Williams said 11 cats and a dog also perished.

“The investigator has determined that the cause was a lightning strike,” McKenzie said.

Williams told The Horse that the owners had prepared in advance in case fire struck their facility.

"We also had an alarm system with smoke and heat detectors," she said. "Unfortunately, the lightning strike took out the alarm system and the phone lines, so the alarm did not call for help. 

"I just don't want any one else to make the mistake of thinking a security system is fool-proof," Williams said. "We took every precaution, unfortunately accidents still happen."

The threat of barn fires worry many horse owners. Still, Rebecca Gimenez, PhD, president and primary instructor of Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue, said horse owners are generally unprepared to both prevent barn fires on their properties and to respond should one occur.

Gimenez said barn fires typically double in size every minute. As a result, there is little time to save horses or people trapped inside a burning barn, she said, so it's critical that owners understand how to reduce their barn fire risk in the first place:

  • Remove inappropriate fans, heaters, and other electric devices that could spark a fire, and avoid storing electric devices in close proximity to flammable hay and shavings;
  • Keep horses' feed covered to discourage rodents, that could chew on electric wires, from frequenting the barn;
  • Work with a contractor to install devices that detect heat, smoke, and flames in your barn; and
  • Formulate a plan for removing horses in the event of a fire, such as creating a “fire lane” or runway inside the barn. The system allows owners to release horses from stalls and chase them through a lane system that leads well away from the barn.

Finally, while these potentially life-saving steps might take some planning, Gimenez said horse owners need not spend a lot of money on fire prevention.

"It might surprise (people) how inexpensive these measures are compared to standing there helplessly next to a smoldering mess," she said.

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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