Tips to help prevent winter barn fires

snowy barn

As I dig in the closet to find a few more clothes to stay warm when I go to the barn, it proves winter is rolling in fast and I had better get the barns ready.

Usually, when I think about getting barns ready for winter it is making sure I can keep drafts off the calves. There is one other big thing to think about and inspect as you prepare for winter, are there any fire hazards in your barn?


The first fire hazard that comes to mind is the six different barn heaters we run in the winter.  During the summer, we shut the gas off to all these heaters to prevent a fire, especially since many of these heaters have a standing pilot light.

When it comes time to light them for winter, the dust is an inch deep — okay, not an inch deep but they are dirty. This is why you need to plan further ahead than the night the barn will freeze to light these heaters.

Take a portable air compressor to the barn, remove any covers you can and blow out the dust — not just in the burner but on the heat shields and wherever dust and cobwebs accumulate.

When you turn the gas on, take the time to smell for gas from the valve to heater in case a joint started to leak over the summer.

It is also recommended that you light the heater in the morning when you plan to be around most of the day to check and make sure it is functioning properly; the worst possible time to light heaters is right before going home for the night.

Electrical system

Open flame heaters are not the only fire hazard present on the farm. When was the last time you inspected the electrical system in your barn — everything from the fuse box, electrical wires and light bulbs? Inspections should be conducted every year. Dust and cobwebs should be cleaned from the boxes and wires inspected for damage from water or animals chewing on them.

LED lights have come a long way in helping to prevent barn fires, but if you have incandescent bulbs, they should be in globes in case the bulbs break. Any type of bulb that animals can reach needs protected so that they cannot be broken.

Temporary heat lamps

Another common fire starter is temporary heat lamps. Even if they are only used for a couple days each year, they need hung with a chain not twin string. If at all possible, have them plugged directly into an outlet. The more extension cords running through the barn, the greater the fire risk. Lastly, purchase heat lamps that are fully enclosed so that if they fall the bulbs have less of a chance of breaking and starting a fire.

Have a plan

While you rarely think a fire will happen on your farm, having a plan in place in case it does happen someday will save you lots of stress. It only takes three or four minutes for an enclosed barn to be full of smoke, and within six minutes it can be fully engulfed with visible flames.

After fire prevention measures are taken, having fire extinguishers at every entrance to the barn improves your ability to extinguish the flames and save your barn. Remember it only takes three minutes to fill the barn with smoke. Is that enough time to reach a fire extinguisher and make it back?

Barn evacuation

If you don’t make it back in time, what is your barn evacuation plan, the animals will need to go someplace besides being turned loose. Loose animals will often run back into the burning barn and can be a hazard to first responders trying to battle the fire and shuttle water. Once animals are moved to a safe location, they should be hosed off if at all possible in case embers landed on the animals and are under their hair.

In order for the fire department to battle the fire, the electric needs shut off to your barn. Can this be done on your farm?

Another good prevention measure is to invite the local fire department to your farm every couple years so that they can make plans for where water will come from and look over the design of your barn in order to have an attack plan before they are paged out to your place.

Hopefully by using prevention strategies you never have to use your plans for a bad day.


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Jason Hartschuh is the OSU Extension field specialist in dairy management and precision livestock and assistant professor. He can be reached at



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