Any enterprise can be at risk of fire. Perhaps farms have more fire risks than many other sites, however, because of the multitude of activities that are performed on site. And farms are typically located farther away from responders and fire stations than urban dwellers.
Farmers are often jacks of all trades. They use many different kinds of equipment that are powered with a variety of fuels. Many farm chemicals can represent fire hazards. Overheated farm equipment parked in the farm shop can be the source of an initial spark. Welding and soldering equipment are great aids to getting farm work done but can be a source of danger if haphazardly used.
Even a simple bale of hay can be a risk for fire, say some Extension practitioners at Virginia Tech University who have produced an educational paper on the topic called Hay Fire Prevention and Control. Extension engineers Susan Gay and Robert Grisso, Extension forage specialist Ray Smith and also Jerry Swisher, Jr., a retired Extension dairy scientist, cooperated on the article. In it they note that stored hay can be the cause of spontaneous combustion that can cause thousands of dollars worth of damage to buildings as well as feed replacement costs.
These spontaneous hay fires are typically caused when bale moisture is too high, greater than 20%, which can cause thermophilic, or heat loving, bacteria to multiply. In some circumstances when there is enough oxygen available, these bacteria can cause the hay to self ignite.
The best way to reduce the risk is to make sure hay moisture is down when bailing, note the authors. In addition there are additional steps a producer can take. Download the complete publication on the Internet at http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/442/442-105/442-105.html.
Robin Tutor, interim director of the Agromedicine Institute in Greenville, N.C., often does on farm evaluations of farm hazards in the AgriSafe program. One thing she often tells farmers with high-reaching augers is to beware of overhead power lines when moving the equipment around storage bins. The equipment can become entangled in the overhead lines and cause either fire or shock dangers.
Farmers should make sure to follow all safety precautions related to their farming implements and equipment. Tobacco barns are safe when correctly used but high temperature heaters used to process flue-cured tobacco have caused many on farm fires over the decades. The threat can be increased in an unkempt setting. Keeping field borders cut back and making sure brush is cleaned up around buildings lowers the risk of fire escaping from a spark and spreading across the ground.
Fuel storage tanks should be placed where they will not be struck by tractors, vehicles or other machinery. Make sure all frayed wires are repaired and that all electric equipment has good grounding, whether on the farm, in the shop or in livestock buildings.
In his 2004 report on the Proceedings of the N.C. Healthy Hogs Seminar, an annual meeting organized by the N.C. Swine Veterinary Group, Rickey Langley of Duke University says:
"Electrical shocks may occur from damaged cords or light sockets. Improper grounding, stray voltage and faulty wiring, in addition to wet surfaces and metal pins which serve as good electrical conductors, place the worker at risk for electrocution. Additionally, damage to electrical wires is also a fire hazard. All equipment should be properly guarded and routinely maintained. Guards should always be replaced after removal for equipment repair. Fans should be screened to comply with pertinent regulations."
Readers who would like to learn more about the N.C. Healthy Hogs meetings, including comments on farm fire hazards, can survey and upload the proceedings from http://www.ncsu.edu/project/swine_extension/healthyhogs/default.htm