Protecting Farms & Ranches from Wildfires

Protecting Farms & Ranches from Wildfires

Sandhills after wildfire
If a wildfire threatens your farm or ranch, always remember that human life must be first priority, property comes second. Photo credit Troy Walz.

Wildfires affect America’s farm and ranches, damaging and destroying homes, barns, agriculture production facilities, crops, and livestock.  Below are some tips to help avoid or minimize fire damage to your property.

Measures include:

  1. Install and maintain smoke detectors. Smoke detectors should be installed in barns and buildings and checked at least once per month.  Batteries should be changed at least once per year.
  2. Develop an escape or evacuation plan and practice it. The evacuation plan should also include how to transport animals and livestock that may be in danger.
  3. Post emergency numbers in a central location, including the fire department, police department, local emergency response coordinator, and others who provide emergency assistance.
  4. Place fire extinguishers in all barns, vehicles, and tractors.  Check extinguishers periodically for charge.  Discard damaged or used fire extinguishers.
  5. Store fuels, pesticides, medicines and other chemicals in a fire-retardant enclosure or secure location away from heat sources and combustible materials.  In the event of a wildfire, these substances should be removed from the premises.
  6. Keep barns and buildings clean of trash and other combustible materials such as hay, lumber, logs, and empty feed sacks.

Practice Farm and Ranch Specific Fire Safety

  1. Make sure your farm/ranch has adequate water supply, such as an irrigation ditch, a water tank, a cistern, or a pond.
       a. Keep stock tanks full when weather allows by turning on solar wells, windmills and pipeline fed tanks.  This will help your local fire department have a water source in case of a fire.
  2. When it is dry be careful when driving atvs, vehicles, tractors, and bale feeders in dead, tall standing grass.  Any kind of spark or heat source may ignite the dry grass on fire.
  3. Keep irrigation sources free of combustible material.
    a. It may warrant running the irrigation well to wet things down especially if a fire is headed your way.
  4. Keep farmstead areas clear of weeds, grass, and other debris.  Keep areas near buildings mowed and trees pruned 6 to 10 ft above the ground and fuels away from buildings that could create a path for fire into the eave/soffit.
  5. Make sure dead trees are removed especially if they are near electrical lines.
  6. Park tractors and implements away from combustible materials such as hay bales, haystacks, and fuel storage containers.
       a. Have tractors hooked up to discs so you can use this equipment to make a fire break for an approaching fire.
       b. Fill liquid tanks when not in use with water for fire suppression.
  7. Obtain fire insurance for livestock, buildings, and equipment.
  8. Conduct random, but regular inspections and fire drills.  Invite the fire department for these drills to minimize confusion during an actual occurrence.
  9. Keep above ground fuel storage at least 40 feet from buildings.

During a Fire

If a wildfire threatens your farm or ranch, always remember that human life must be first priority, property comes second.  Keep in mind, however, that when firefighters arrive, they may ask which to save first, second, third, etc., so determine beforehand the order of importance: livestock, machinery, or feed.

If you become trapped in a burning barn or building, practice fire safety:

  1. Get out quickly, but safely.
  2. Stay low since smoke rises and cover your mouth with a clean cloth to avoid inhaling hot smoke and gases.
  3. Close doors after escaping rooms to slow the spread of fire.
  4. If smoke is pouring in the room at the bottom of the door, and the door feels hot, keep it closed.
  5. Open a window to escape or for fresh air while waiting to be rescued.
  6. If no smoke is coming under the door and it is not hot, open it slowly to escape.

If you have time to evacuate animals, proceed with caution.  Some animals may refuse to leave, and some may even run back into a burning barn or building.  Make sure to close gates prohibiting access to dangerous areas.  When evacuating animals, do not lead them to where they will become trapped or to a dead end.

The aftermath of a wildfire can be hazardous.  A few precautions must be taken after a wildfire takes place on your property:

  1. Stay out of damaged barns and buildings and return to your property only when authorities permit you to do so.
  2. Notify proper authorities if you believe that hazardous materials were released in the fire or during firefighting.  Place warning signs on contaminated areas.
  3. When disposing of some materials, such as those potentially contaminated with chemicals, check on state and local requirements for disposal procedures.
  4. Consult someone from the local Emergency Planning Committee or the State Division of Emergency for legal clean-up procedures if needed.
  5. Keep livestock away from contaminated feed or water.
  6. Wear protective gear when entering contaminated areas and damaged barns and buildings. Protective gear includes steel-toed boots, hard hat, respiratory protection, gloves and other protective clothing.
  7. Before entering a barn or building assess the true integrity of the structure. Always turn off the electrical power and other utilities to the structure until a thorough inspection by a fire marshal or a legal authority clears it to be entered.
  8. If the decision is made to demolish a building, hire a professional.  Professionals will be able to do the job more efficiently and safely.
  9. Check with your insurance provider so you know ahead of time what is covered by wildfires.  Take pictures of all damage, and inventory all damaged structures, supplies, equipment, and machinery.  Save receipts for expenses relating to the fire.
  10. Contact the local Farm Service Agency on possible disaster programs that might help you recover.

Animals are especially susceptible to wildfires, particularly those that are confined to small pastures.  After a wildfire, examine all animals exposed to wildfire smoke, heat or burns.  You may need to spray animals with water to cool them down. You may need to humanely euthanize some animals due to the extent of their injuries and follow state guidelines for proper disposal.

Just as you care for your farm and livestock, be sure to take care of yourself, family, and your neighbors during this time. Resources are available:

  • Nebraska Rural Response Hotline: 1-800-464-0258
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 or text 741741
  • UNL Rural Wellness on the web –



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