Florida Barn Fire Claims Pregnant Mare

Fire authorities in Brevard County, Fla., believe that an electrical issue could have caused a fire at a breeding farm that claimed the life of a pregnant mare and caused more than $425,000 in other damages.

Lt. Jeff Taylor, public information officer for the Brevard County Fire Rescue, said that on the afternoon of March 3, a pair of workmen reported a fire at a home and breeding barn in Canaveral Grove, Fla. Taylor said that fire officials believe that the fire began inside the breeding stable then quickly spread to a horse trailer containing more than 200 bales of hay. The blaze then spread to the main residence nearby, he said.

A pregnant mare expected to foal within days of the incident was located inside the barn at the time of the incident; the animal perished after bystanders' repeated rescue attempts failed, Taylor said.

In addition to the loss of the mare and foal, the blaze caused more than $425,000 in damages, Taylor said. The property's owners were away at horse show at the time of the incident, he said. The fire remains under investigation, Taylor said.

The Florida incident is the latest fatal barn fire to take place this year. In February, 10 horses died in Michigan when their barn at the Midnite Sun Training Center became engulfed in flames. Rebecca Gimenez, BS, PhD, president and primary instructor of Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue, said that many horse owners are unprepared to prevent barn fires on their properties and can be just as unprepared to respond when fire breaks out.

"We (in the equine) industry have 'ostrich syndrome' when it comes to barn fire preparation because we think it won't happen to us," Gimenez said. "What matters is what you have done to prevent and mitigate fire at your facility."

Gimenez said that, generally, fire doubles in size every minute; therefore, by the time a flame is noticed, the fire department often can't arrive at the facility in time to save any people or horses trapped inside a barn.

"The crucial idea to understand is that once a barn catches fire, your chances of ... removing your animals is very small," Gimenez said.

That's why it is critical to take steps to reduce the risk of barn fire and to establish a response plan should a barn fire occur. Gimenez recommends:

  • Removing inappropriate fans, heaters, and other electrical devices--especially those used with extension cords--from barns. "These are just waiting to create a spark that can fall into the hay or shavings," she said.
  • Add appropriate fire detection devices, such as systems that detect heat, smoke, and flames, and install an automatic sprinkler system. The improvements could qualify facilities for discounts on insurance premiums. However, Gimenez warns that installing such systems is not a do-it-yourself project. "Call a contractor to get a quote from a professional on a fire detection system that will work for your barn," she said.
  • Finally, Gimenez advises horse owners to formulate a plan for removing their animals from the barn in the event of a fire. The best barn evacuation strategy involves establishing a so-called "fire lane" or runway system that allows each horse to be released from its stall, then chased through the runway system to a secure area well away from the barn. "It's best if horses have access to a pasture away from the barn," Gimenez said.

Gimenez said that cost prevents many horse owners from installing fire detection systems in their barns. However, the cost is better viewed as an investment, she said.

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

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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