Tips for Avoiding Barn Fires

After several recent barn fires have killed dozens of horses across the nation, New York State Racing and Wagering Board Chairman John D. Sabini is urging owners and trainers of horses at racetracks to step up inspections.

"Barns can become fully engulfed in flames in a matter of minutes--and that's why it is imperative to take steps that can prevent these fires from igniting in the first place," said Sabini, New York's chief regulator of both Thoroughbred and harness track racing. "As soon as flames begin to flicker inside a barn, it literally can be too late. A thorough inspection of barns is absolutely essential."

The most recent barn fire erupted at a show arena in Minnesota. Around 40 horses perished in the blaze, which remains under investigation.

Earlier this year, 27 horses--many of them Thoroughbreds involved in racing--died in a fire that broke out in a barn at Riverside Downs in Kentucky. The cause of that fire is believed to be accidental. Another 15 horses were killed in a barn fire in Washington State.

The New York racing authorities are calling for added attention to barn safety, noting that such fires most often occur in winter months, when heating devices are often switched on inside barns.

"Racehorses are amazing athletes that entertain and enthrall us--but they rely on people to provide them with safe shelter," said Racing and Wagering Board Member Daniel D. Hogan.

Tips include:

  • Have wiring and electrical equipment inspected and, if necessary, repaired.
  • Let hired hands and grooms know that there is a strict "no smoking" rule inside barns. Post "no smoking" signs prominently.
  • Regularly sweep out cobwebs, which fire prevention experts say can serve as rapid pathways for flames.
  • Keep fully charged fire extinguishers stored in a conspicuous place in the barn.
  • Post prominent signs warning that unauthorized people are not allowed access to barns.
  • Use a broom or vacuum to keep barns free of stray shavings and hay.
  • Install lightning protection and, if feasible, sprinkler systems.

The fire safety tips embraced by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board are also promoted by the Humane Society of the United States, which has published a booklet called, "Making Your Horse Barn Fire Safe."  

"If you own horses, regardless of whether or not you own a barn, I would encourage you to check out this vital safety information," Sabini said. "In many instances, your local fire department will be more than willing to assist you with arranging an inspection."

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