The effects of fire
Horse & Hound|April 22, 2021
We hope it never happens, but if your horse was caught in a fire, what would be the implications and how would we restore them to health? Andrea Oakes investigates
Andrea Oakes

ONE of the most heartbreaking aspects of a yard fire is that a horse lucky enough to be freed from a burning stable will often refuse to leave it, or will try to run back to it, in the mistaken belief that his stable is a place of safety. The chaos and confusion as the flames take hold is something we hope never to witness.

Hope is not a strategy, however, when it comes to keeping horses safe. Instead, prevention and planning will minimise risk and offer the best chance of avoiding a catastrophe.

According to Jim Green, who brings years of firefighting experience to his role as director of the British Animal Rescue and Trauma Care Association (BARTA), the typical yard set-up presents a perfect storm for an inferno.

“Most have an abundance of combustible materials, such as wood, forage and bedding, but lack smoke detectors, fire alarms or sprinkler systems – unlike at commercial premises,” Jim explains. “By the time someone realises that fire has broken out, it’s often too late. The usual advice with a building fire is to get out and shut the door; with stables, it can be difficult to contain the flames.”

The facts are frightening – a fire involving dry materials, such as straw and shavings, can double in size every 60 seconds.

“Products of combustion are nasty,” says Jim. “Hot air rises, and when horses are scared they lift their heads and their respiration rate increases. In an enclosed space, they are at risk from toxic and often superheated smoke, as well as the physical effects of radiant heat.

“Other building materials will contribute; the felt under a tiled roof can melt and drip onto the animals below, for example, causing burns,” he adds. “Smoke from materials such as rubber and felt will also create huge toxicity.”

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