18 February 2016

Barn Fires Ignite Calls For Change

The preventable deaths of thousands of animals in barn blazes has fired up renewed calls to beef up rules and safety protocols to thwart future scenarios.

In January alone, about 53,000 animals including goats, horses, pigs and ducks, were killed in Canadian barn fires.

Adding to the tragedy is the reality many barn fires could be avoided if some simple steps were taken to prevent them and plans made on how to rescue animals should one break out, say animal advocates. “Incredibly, there are no specific regulations in place to protect animals from burning to death in preventable barn fires,” says Anna Pippus, Director of Farmed Animal Advocacy at Animal Justice Canada. “In the face of government and industry inaction, animal advocates have been calling for reform.”

In homes, schools and workplaces, history has proven everything from building design to protocols like fire drills and on-site resources including alarms and extinguishers, have prevented fires and saved lives when they do occur. But because barn blazes are often seen as having only economic impact on livestock owners, more needs to be done to protect animals from dying in avoidable barn fires, advocates say.

To that end, more than 33,000 signatures have been collected in a Canadians for the Ethical Treatment of Farmed Animals petition calling on industry to create a barn fire code of practice and requirements including fire alarms, sprinklers and protocols for freeing animals from burning barns.

The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS) has issued recommendations for farmers, including regular fire safety inspections and ensuring flammable materials are stored away from where animals live while the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs released a report advising farmers on the leading causes of barn fires and steps to reduce risk.

Given the speed at which tragedy can unfold, the CFHS suggests preparation is key in dodging disaster, “yet many of the simplest protection and prevention techniques recommended by farm and fire experts across the country and the world are not currently standard farm practice.” That means thousands of livestock animals are killed in barn fires annually and millions in lost revenue dollars to farmers who often declare bankruptcy while waiting on insurance payouts.

One unique challenge is the rescue of animals trapped in burning barns - making preparing for the possibility crucial, according to the CFHS. “Pigs and poultry are often housed too densely to make evacuation possible in any practical fashion, especially in Canadian winters where animals can die in just minutes of outdoor exposure,” the organization states on its website.

“Evacuating horses involves other considerations ... even when owners or handlers are on the scene in time to make a difference, there are numerous horror stories of horses breaking free from handlers and running back into burning barns. Have a halter and lead at each stall (do not keep horses haltered,) practising fire drills and knowing the location of the fire exits can better prepare horse owners to react, should fire strike.”

Advocates are calling on governments to update building and fire codes, requiring barns to be outfitted with industrial-grade smoke and heat detectors as well as sprinkler systems.

“There's no excuse for not taking common sense preventive measures to reduce the risk that hundreds or thousands of animals will experience the pain and terror of burning to death with no means of escape,” Pippus says. “We shouldn't be satisfied with waiting for the industry to voluntarily take action.”

By Nadia Moharib
Nadia Moharib is an animal lover who has adopted everything from birds to hamsters, salamanders, rabbits, fish and felines. She has written about all-things-pets for years and was a long-time editor of a pet magazine in a daily newspaper which featured a Q & A column, Ask Whit, penned by her pooch (ghost written, of course.) The serial dog owner lives in Calgary, Alberta and most days can be found at a dog park picking up after her rescue pooch, Scoots.

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