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Know how to stop small fires, as well as how to prevent, on-farm


LEETONIA, Ohio — Three weeks ago the evening skies lighted up as flames gutted the historic home at Leetonia’s McKeefrey Farm on West Main Street. The smoke was visible for miles and the crackling of wood was too much to bear for the homeowner (who requested not to be identified herein).

They said the house was built in 1908 by W.D. McKeefrey. Five generations of the family lived in the 12-bedroom mansion, but eight generations of furniture and belongings were inside the structure. No cause is known at this time as to the fire’s origin.

A family of five, ages 7 to 45, died in a different farmhouse fire in Fostoria, Ohio, on Oct. 30. Although the cause of the fire was ruled undetermined, investigators could not rule out electrical or heating sources as possible causes of the blaze.

Last week, and on a much larger scale, a fire destroyed a barn at Holter’s Holstein Farms in Meigs County. Seven fire departments responded to this fire, which authorities say was the result of combustion in the hay bales.

Also last week, firefighters were called to the farm of David and Jean Seikel, located on Ridge Road NE, about three miles east of New Philadelphia in Tuscarawas County. When crews arrived on the scene, the barn – which housed about 1,300 large round bales – was fully engulfed in flames and the roof on the structure had caved in. The barn was a total loss and the cause of the fire is still undetermined.

“Fire safety during harvest season is so important,” said Dee Jepsen, Ohio State University agricultural safety leader. “Knowing what to do during an emergency is important year-round; however, during fall, it’s especially important to be prepared for fires.

“Fires are common in the fields and around the grain bins. Dried plant material and crop dust are highly combustible. Even the slightest heat source can cause ignition.”

According to Jepsen, training begins with all family members as well as any farm employees.

“It’s important for all employees and family members to know where fire extinguishers are placed and how to use them. While it may be intuitive for supervisors to assume everyone know how to properly use an extinguisher in an emergency, when panic sets in, logical minds can check out.”

Jepsen recommends using the acronym PASS as a four-step process when using these devices: P (pull the pin), A (aim the canister at the base of the fire), S (squeeze the trigger) and S (sweep the extinguisher from side to side over the flames).

“Being prepared to handle small fires before they get out of control is important for farm families and farm workers,” she said.

And extinguishers in the barn is another recommendation. “Having all machinery equipped with a trustworthy five-pound ABC fire extinguisher is one of the first lines of defense,” she said. “A 10-pound unit is recommended for combines and a 20-pound unit is recommended for grain bin sites.

“Extinguishers should never be further than 100 feet away. If fires become too big for the extinguisher, leave the area and call the local fire department.”

Jepsen warns farmers with grain dryers to be on the alert for fires.

“Besides being costly losses to the grain and the drying equipment, there are also indirect costs associated with fires, including additional time and labor to clean the problem, downtime with the drying and storage facility and extra time to haul grain to another location,” she explained. “One needs to take the time to conduct regular inspections during drying operations and perform routine housekeeping tasks.

“For the most part, operators are aware of the manufacturer’s safety recommendations and system operations for their particular dryer. However, it is important for farmers, their family labor and employees working around the grain dryer to be informed of specific signs that could lead to fire.”

Other fire hazards lurk as well. According to the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), poultry and hog confinements are at greater risk of fire due to the number of fans running and the electricity produced. Combines can catch on fire when the dry plant material or grain dust mix with heat generated by the equipment’s motor, belts or exhaust system.

The ODA recommends performing maintenance checks at the end of the day rather than at the beginning. This will allow the producer to detect any hot or smoldering areas that may break out into flames overnight.

“With awareness and planning, Ohio farmers can protect their commodities, equipment and facilities from fires,” Jepsen said.