If the animals cannot be evacuated, the facility should have a shelter-in-place plan for the animals. Of course, shelter in place is not an option for most of us--our animals are boarded or live where there is not a possibility of survival. Animals should not remain in barns during wildfires, but should instead be housed in a pasture with all combustible vegetation removed. Water and forage (e.g., grass or hay) should be provided, and each animal should be properly identified. Avoid synthetic (e.g., nylon or plastic) halters or lead ropes that may melt and cause serious burns to the horse or the handler. Never use nylon sheets, fly masks, or other synthetic tack or equipment during a wildfire. Very few items of horse clothing are fire retardant.
If the flames are so close that they threaten your barn it is usually the wind blown cinders (partially burned materials such a leaves, paper, lightweight duff) that cause facilities to catch on fire before the flame front actually gets to the property. These can be blown in from hundreds of yards or even miles away. When choosing to live in an area subject to wild fires, facilities should be designed with wildfire and fire safety in mind: open ventilation, frost free hydrants, generators, and 33m (100 feet) minimum defensible space around each structure will allow fire crews to protect it from falling cinders and direct flames where there is not time to evacuate the animals to a safer place.
Consider FireWise plants to be used in landscaping. Your local extension service can provide a list of these species to you. There are no completely fireproof plants but some catch and spread fire more slowly so are much safer. Landscaping with "kindling" such as mulches made of combustibles, plants that easily catch on fire, and putting plants too close to buildings is foolish.
Tile roofs are relatively able to resist flame spread from these cinders, versus shake and composite roofs, which are more vulnerable. But few of us can afford tile roofs on our barns--and with a barn it is usually the ground floor where so many combustibles occur that the cinders are able to instigate flame (bedding, hay and straw storage are good examples) since so many barns are not able to be enclosed to prevent cinders blowing into the recesses of stalls and storage areas.
Insurers or the local fire department will walk through your facilities and barns with owners to identify hazards and give suggestions for reducing fire risk. Large public riding and show facilities are normally inspected at least twice yearly, but regular inspections are a good idea regardless of the size of the operation or local enforcement. Make a written fire "shelter in place" plan and routinely practice that plan, it is recommended that owners practice once a quarter. Public facilities and boarding barns should practice a fire drill and review their plans once a month which ensures new boarders, employees and students are well prepared.
Since it is impossible to render any facility fire-proof, management must enforce a program of prevention and train employees in mitigation techniques such as good design, use of fire retardants and suppression techniques. Wild fires require deployment of large local firefighting resources--which means they may not be available to assist you until very late in the disaster.
Untrained people without respiratory protection and proper fire protective clothing and training should never enter smoking or burning barn structures. All personnel commonly around barns should be familiar with the plans and the location of barn fire response equipment such as emergency phones, hoses, water sources and fire extinguishers. You will need an excellent water source, hand and mechanical tools, weather radio to determine location of the fires approach, and multiple people on hand to quickly extinguish cinders.
A fire requires three things to burn: an ignition source (spark or intense heat), a fuel source (combustible material) and oxygen. Based on the availability of oxygen, the arrangement of the combustibles and type of fuel, the fuel source begins to smolder, sometimes for hours. The cinders must be extinguished at this stage because after flame eruption, very few structures are salvageable.
When a wildfire is coming through your facility must be self-sufficient for water and power to drive the pumps for water as well.
The expansion of NFPA 150® includes life and fire safety requirements for both humans and animals in all types of animal housing facilities. Construction of facilities should be designed to limit fire spread, maintain building structural integrity as long as possible, and tenability along fire escape routes for a specific period of time. While it is impossible to make a livestock building "fireproof," owners of such facilities will constantly have to manage the risk of fires by incorporating safety practices, prevention strategies, and management focus. Barn design should attempt to increase the amount of time (minutes) that it takes a fire to reach flash point by modifying building materials, contents and using compartmentalization with fire resistant barriers.
Fire prevention, protection and suppression considerations might not be foremost in the agricultural building designer's mind but should be insisted upon to improve detection and fire suppression methods to allow fires to be slowed or extinguished. Fire prevention involves minimizing the fuel sources by storing hay and bedding in a separate building, keeping the barn clean (including cob web removal), and enforcing a strict "no smoking" policy. Fire detection should set off automatic fire-suppression systems (extinguishers, sprinkler systems). Call a local contractor to have them give you an estimate on retrofitting your facility.
Sprinkler systems and fire suppression methods have been proven to extinguish or slow down fires in barns affected by wildfire yet are a rare addition to barns. In some climates a "dry" versus a "wet" or pre-charged system must be used to prevent the water freezing in the pipes. Automated sprinkler systems, of the wet or the dry type depending upon water pressure and geography (cold) should be installed and maintained. The initial cost can be high, however, many insurance companies will cut premiums by as much as 50 percent, and this is a depreciable expense. These systems require a generator to run the pumps once power in lost, especially in rural areas.
A group of New Mexico Firefighters started a business named Firestop LLC. They sell products to protect homes from wildfire. The main one is Baricade, a Fire Block Gel like professional fire fighters use. It is usually sprayed on homes before evacuating. Contact info: 505/237-2254 or 866/828-1805, Firestop, PO Box 14917, Albuquerque, NM 87191, email@example.com There are numerous other suppliers of fire retardants for preventing barn fires that can be sprayed on existing buildings to limit flame spread on existing wood surfaces. Usually, the old paint and varnish must be removed first.
While “shelter in place” planning is not practical for many of us and a dangerous option for most, if you choose this method, please consult with local firefighters and your emergency management personnel to ensure that your plans are realistic and capable of being initiated based on the worst case scenarios.