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Farm Fires

On Friday, April 14th 2023, it was reported that a fire had broken out at a dairy farm in Texas, killing more than 18,000 cows. The explosion that started the fire happened at a family run dairy farm in West Texas and it was the most deadly barn fire on record in the United States. One member of staff was rescued by firefighters, but nothing could be done to save the cows in the barn. This isn't the first of such fires, it is one fire out of many that have lead to the deaths of nearly 6.5 million farm animals in the last decade, most of them being poultry.


fire at a farm, people watching
Firefighters from Oxfordshire said this had been a 'significant' farm fire (Photo: Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service)

Farm Fires

All farms are at risk of fire, there's animal fed, straw or hay, animal waste, machinery and vehicle fuel. Although it is not clear at this point, the cause of the fire in Texas is thought to have been faulty farm equipment igniting the methane released from the cows kept in a confined area, the barn.


The blaze prompted calls from the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), one of the oldest US animal protection groups, for writing of federal laws to prevent barn fires which kill hundreds of thousands of farm animals each year. Currently there are no federal regulations protecting animals from the fires in America and only a few states, Texas not among them, have adopted fire protection codes for such buildings, according to an AWI statement.


In the UK there are over one thousand fires in agricultural buildings every year, many of them housing livestock. The government has set guidelines for reducing the risk of a fire breaking out and what must be put in place to allow for the quick management of a fire if one should occur. This includes designing buildings to allow for evacuation of animals, materials used for buildings and equipment must be flame resistant. Flammable materials, such as straw, must be kept away from the where animals are housed so that a fire can be isolated away from living creatures. None of these guidelines were able to prevent two separate fires that took place in one weekend which lead to the deaths of a number of pigs and around 16,000 chickens.


Risks

Farm fires are a serious concern for farmers, but also the communities around them. They cause damage to buildings, equipment, the environment and they destroy the trust that the community has in the farmer. The smoke from a farm fire can linger for many days and can consist of dangerous chemical fumes, the smoke can damage homes and businesses in the area and spread to nearby fields. The smoke will reduce air quality, making it difficult and sometimes impossible for people to go outside, all doors and windows must be kept shut. Then there is the cost to the animals, the distress and panic caused by being trapped with hundreds of other animals, completely unable to escape the smoke, flames and heat. Ideally, animals would not be kept on farms, they should not be at risk of being hurt or killed in a farm fire. However, this is not reality, so farmers must do their due diligence, they must carry out regular maintenance of equipment and electrical systems as well as installing fire prevention and suppression systems. Farms must be designed with fire breaks to prevent the spread of a fire should one break out and feed, equipment, fertiliser, fuel and chemicals must be stored safely and away from the animals and an evacuation plan, that includes the animals must be developed and practiced. Until the farming of animals ends this all that can be done.


Sources

Gov.UK

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