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What to do when your stable is on fire.
Knowing some basic facts about how fire affects stables and horses may help you improve your ability to save your horses.

  • According to Fire Safety Standards, regular smoke alarms are useless because false alarms are set off by dust and moisture in the stable. There are systems available for stables but the only truly safe system uses sprinklers.
  • Don't waste your money on high tech smoke detection systems that buzz into the local fire department. Even if the station is fully staffed you might get a response in five minutes. Otherwise, like many of us, the call goes into a volunteer station where the responders are paged, they drive into the station to pick up the rigs, and then they drive to the fire. In less than fifteen minutes your horses are dead from smoke inhalation and the stable is burned half way to the ground.
  • The typical fire doubles in size every three minutes and it only takes three minutes to reach a temperature over one thousand degrees.
  • Depending on the stall construction, horses in stalls adjacent to the fire have up to five minutes to be rescued.
  • A fire extinguisher lasts about 9 seconds.
  • A stable fire is not just grass and wood. It consists of tack cleaner and plastic coffee pots and manure carts with tires and baling twine and bridles and saddles and light fixtures. The smoke will be filled with "methyl-ethyl bad stuff".

When you evacuate the horses, start at the exit and work your way into the stable. If your at-risk horses are closest to the stable doors they are easier to evacuate. "At-risk" horses include the blind, lame, elderly, or otherwise disabled. Take them to a secure pasture or arena. As each horse is taken from his stall, close the door behind him. Unless you practice blindfolding, now is not the time to introduce this new experience to your horses unless absolutely necessary.

If you have the manpower, don't leave a single horse alone in a pasture or arena. Have someone stay with him until at least one other horse is put in with him. Horses are herd animals and being alone could cause panic. Don't turn horses loose. It works in the movies, sometimes, but not in real life. They will run through firefighters, over equipment, into cars, or back into the stable.

Don't expect the firefighters to evacuate your horses. A thousand pound horse, already scared witless by the fire, your excitement and the chaos, will not react well to a firefighter in turnouts. And, the firefighters probably don't have horse handling experience in the first place. The fire department IS the top authority at the scene of a fire however, superseding even law enforcement.

When the firefighters arrive, they will set up a "command post". This could consist of just one person, possibly the Fire Chief, in his car. Introduce yourself and identify the person in charge. This isn't the person of the highest rank or the owner of the stable. It's the person who is truly the most knowledgeable about the stable and the horses.

This person should know:

  • How many horses in the stable? Are they all evacuated?
  • Are there other animals? Cats, dogs, goats?
  • Where is the power shutoff?
  • What is the layout of the stable?
  • Where are the water sources? Hydrants, spigots, ponds, storage tanks.
  • Is there hay storage in the stable?
  • What combustibles such as gas or propane are in the stable?
  • Are there vehicles in the stable?
  • What other hazards are there? Tack trunks in the aisles? Manure carts? Tack rooms with cleaning fluids?
  • Who is capable of handing the horses?

Be available to answer questions, but stay out of the way.

The sad truth is that no detection device available will save your horse's life if there isn't someone IN the stable to begin evacuation immediately.

The only answer -- other than 24/7 turnout -- is a good sprinkler system and vigilance. I encourage all of you to go to Laurie Loveman's barn fire safety website. Read all the articles and correct whatever needs to be corrected in your stable.