Fear of Fire

Yesterday I solved the problem of the West Barn cows water by dragging the emergency water barrel, which was half filled with frozen water all the way round and through the open gate, then into the barn and into their inside barn area so I could run a cable and drop a water heater into it and fill it up with buckets from the other side.  (You see  their normal watering hole is frozen solid for the winter and their usual winter watering space has been taken over by pigs. ) This was quite a haul and a number of times I had to sit on the side of the heavy water barrel and think about my life, as the snow fell on my face and the wind howled about my head, I had to give myself a good talking to about not being such a baby and this being one of those  times I had to pull up my knickers and lift like a girl. Which I did. With the cows and the pigs through the fence and the dogs dancing to and fro – all lending moral support.

I looked at Carlos the IV and wondered about yoking him into a harness and letting him do the pulling. Dexters are supposed to make go0d oxen. But the fastest way to do anything is to put your back into it, do it yourself and Get It Done.

While I dragged this tub half filled with frozen water across the concrete pad I thought about fire.


I manage two old barns. Both of these barns have electricity, but no water. The water is carried in and then heated so it does not freeze solid. So for both of these barns I run long extension cords around the pens (so the pigs cannot chew on them) to the water barrels or heated dog bowls.  Not all of these cords are new, not any of the barn wiring is new, fire is not new.

Every year I hear horror stories of heating lamps burning down chicken coops and all the birds, farrowing houses and all the pigs and piglets. A neighbour of mine burnt his whole barn full of pregnant sheep, this was caused by a heating lamp on the first lambs. A Dairy recently burnt killing too many cows. This is awful. It terrifies me. All these animals were locked into their pens.

So, I have two rules. One. If using a heating lamp it is on two chains, firmly attached  and in a cage. So if one chain  fails, the other catches it. If both fail and it falls the cage keeps it above the straw.  I only use heating lamps in the first few days of an animals life if it is cold.  And I check them obsessively. And always saying what if – what if. The chickens do not have heat lamps  – not even in this cold.

My second rule – Every set of animals has an escape hatch. I have designed every pen so there is always a door open to the outside.  Animals and birds do not lie in bed and think “Is that a fire I smell, honey, is that smoke?” Animals get the tiniest whiff of smoke and bolt for the open. In full flight. So I give them all a place to run. Though their beds are out of direct wind,  this means that they will be cold.  But the animals I live with are ok in cold, I raise no hot house flowers. We call is healthy ventilation. So, their doors stand open all winter except in a severe storm.  I have a horror of fire. And a horror of animals and birds in full terror having no-where to run.  I would hear their screams forever.

These barns are old, tinder dry and with all the water heating cords running through them and old wiring, I cannot ever be sure that there will never be a fire but I can give the animals a way out. To save themselves.

While I was writing this another farmer and member of The Fellowship was writing about the same thing. She makes some good points.

Good morning. The fear of fire is deep within us and the harnessing of it with respect for its power to destroy. The knowledge of it is a good thing. We do not play with fire here.

Much love,


ps. Today I am going shopping. So I may not be back before dark then I will have to do chores in the dark. So maybe there will be no blog page tomorrow.  Maybe.

78 Comments on “Fear of Fire

  1. I’m thinking your two strong dogs need pulling harnesses. If my cocker can pull 15 lbs, I’m sure your dogs can pull more.

  2. I’m with you on the fear of fire – though I only have a dog and no heating lamps. Just fear. I’ve made my neighbors swear to me that at any remote sign of fire that they will get my dog OUT. I don’t care if they kick down a door and in the end there is no fire. Better wrong and safe.

    And I think your two strong dogs need pulling harnesses to help you out. My cocker can pull 15lbs with his harness, and he loves it. I hook the harness to a saucer shaped sled with a carabiner. It works great here on bare ground – no snow or ice. Your two dogs can certainly pull more weight and help you out.

  3. Fire is a frightful thought no matter its location. Candles are pretty, but equally, I watch them like a hawk. Hope your day shopping is enjoyable.

  4. I do not sleep when we have heat lamps going, even with my back ups on back ups. Fire and losing my animals gives me nightmares. They are shut off quickly but sometimes they are a necessity. My husband rewired our barn years ago so wiring ok but the heated buckets in the goats pens still bothers me even when we run cords behind walls, in pvc pipe etc. I have goats and the younger ones, especially males, chew!!! Only a few times have we had to shut off escape routes while lamps were on, a couple years ago when we had wicked east storms with ridiculous winds and heavy snow. That is the direction of two escape routes with no real fixes that I have come up with but still thinking. I don’t even close my eyes those nights. Bedroom window faces barn so I spend the night making sure I don’t c a glowing red light coming in the windows or bouncing off the ceiling. My son is a fireman so he has commented if we r doing good OR bad! Thanks for the reminder. I think I am going to purchase more for extinguishers for the barn.

    • I too make sure that no electrical line is through an animals pen. And like you I can see the barn from my bedroom window and if there is a heat lamp On I have the window open a crack so I can hear any changes and any fire alarms . Though if smoke has got up to them we are already in deep trouble .

  5. FIre has always been the great enemy on farms, not cold. There’s a very, very old farmer’s saying from the south of England: “nor candle nor fire in barn or in byre” (byre being the cowshed for those not of the British persuasion). It dates back to the 1600s. Animals will sleep together for warmth, and kind farmers (who do we know like that?) will give them ample straw, heated water and in Sheila’s case, a nice blankie. But fire cannot be remedied. You are taking strict and careful precautions. Short of wiring fire alams from all the outbuildings back to the house, I don’t think there’s much more you could do. I don’t think at this time of year it gets warm enough there to use the embodied energy in big black tanks of sun-warmed water to raise the temperature inside the barns…

  6. The convent I was at boarding school at, burnt down twice. We were all shepherded out into the night and watched as some of our belongings were thrown down over the balconies and the rest was gone forever. I still remember the heat from those flames as they reached for the sky, and the awful smell. All nuns and children were rescued and then the town people rallied and brought tents, blankets, food and we lived in the veld (field) for days while the firefighters continued dampening down the smouldering mess. Classes continued …. The second fire a couple of years later was the last straw and the convent was closed forever. The fire drills between the two fires became much more meaningful and we were taught how to use the extinguishers for real, but much more importantly we were divided into groups and given very clear instructions how to vacate the buildings and get to safety, we were not allowed to carry any belongings – the nuns firmly believed that God would give back to us what we deserved. I am still not good at open bonfires and have several escape routes in my home – but I sure as nuts would not leave my animals behind.

    On a brighter note it is 23C and overcast and raining on and off, UK cricket team playing a test against SA, ah well. Laura

  7. In an odd coincidence, there’s a fire less than 2 blocks from here. About 45 minutes ago, there was a collection of sirens running through the neighborhood and now there’s a news helicopter overhead. Local news just reported that the fire had been put out but had somehow restarted. Thankfully, it’s not a home but an urgent care office and no one had reported to work yet. It doesn’t matter where you live or work, fire is always a concern.

  8. What if …those thoughts will always push you to be more careful. You are looking at the problem with open eyes. It is a good practise to review your equipment and practices. I’m careful with candles and exit plans. I was lying awake, mentally packing my suitcase and finally got up and made coffee.
    I had a husky once, that the boys made a cart and harness for. The plan was for him to help deliver the papers. They failed to consult the dog however, and he just sat down in the traces! Enjoy your day.

  9. you sure do not pull any punches in your words…’pull up knickers and get on with it’ what a lovely vision it gives to imagination….. I have also read about these bad things happening to farms and to animals an the thing I do not want to read it that it has happened on our Farmy…so I hope that when you went shopping that you bought some new wiring….. Have a great day lots of love

  10. I share your fear of a potential fire in the farm buildings, Cele. One additional thing I do is plug every electrical water heating device – stock tank heater and electric buckets – into a short GFI outlet extension cord. Only a couple of feet long, and costing less than $20 each, I’m hoping to protect myself from the “it was the wiring that started the fire” scenario. It also provides an easy on/off mechanism to the heating device plugged into it. It helps me to sleep a little better.

  11. Wow – as you well know… anything with frozen water in it is extra heavy. You are just something else my friend. I’m like you – I get determined and think, “I’m going to lift this sucka – and that’s that’….. and now I have an umbilical hernia. (But umbilical hernias are rather common in women my age… so you’re OK!!) Have a wonderful day shopping – I don’t like to think of you doing chores in the dark and cold but farmers have been doing that forever, as you know. Hmmm…. and that’s probably a good reason (along with the economics of small scale farming) why so many smaller family farms end up being sold. No one could ever say you don’t have lots of courage!!!!

    • Many people worked hard so their children did not have to. Consequently they do not know how. And never wanted to take over the aging farms. I have never understood how hard healthy muscle building work could be a bad thing .

  12. Oef! Wjhen you began I was thinking that fire was likely the least of your worries. After all, said I to self, the barns are really old and nothing has happened to them up to date, so why worry now? But then, the more you rattled on about possible scenarios I started to get worried about all the wiring lying around and other risks. By the time you were done telling, I was done dreaming of running a small farm too! Oh do try to think of Jenny, above, who has run wires behind walls, in pvc piping. That does sound like the safest.
    I hope all the efforts you had to go through, getting the emergency water barrel into the barn, has proved successful. Never a dull moment, hmm? — Hope you have a fun shopping day! ~ Mame 🙂

  13. This is such an important post. Even in our homes, every winter we hear of simple careless acts that burn down homes. Since moving here, I have learned to greatly respect fire. My worst catastrophe was thinking our burn pile was far enough away and out of sight that it wouldn’t bother our orphaned fawn, Daisy deer. Even the wind should have swept the smoke away from her pen area. In less than a minute of lighting the fire, down in a pit along the canyon drop off, I noticed Daisy wracking herself against the fence in order to flee! I quickly put the fire out with a hose (I always put a hose to the burn pit just in case) and went to her after snuffing the flames. Face bloodied, eyes and nose horribly swollen, along with cuts and abrasions on her legs and body, it took me forever to calm her down. Thankfully, months later, her wounds healed, but I never forgot the lesson. Sensory perception in any animal is keen, and the flight instinct is strong. You are wise to give your animals an escape hatch. There can never be too many precautions in place.

    • Those heating lamps are terribly dangerous. What I want is a heated rock . Maybe the lamp inside it. Then the animals can cuddle next to the warm rock . Much safer . I will try and design one myself.

  14. Having a fear of fire is healthy. We had a wildfire go through our little town September 2014. Within a few hours 130 homes, our sweet Library, Community Center, Senior Nutrition Kitchen and two churches burned to the ground. It was horrific. Our little town will take years to totally recover.

  15. We fear fire here also. It’s very scary. On a side bar note…we’ve had two different neighbors just about burn up our farm…fire is terrifying!


  16. Wheew, that are horror stories you’re thinking of and telling about. Terrifing me alread alone by reading. I wish and hope you never ever will be confronted in reality with things like that. So sorry for your neighbours and their animals….
    Hope you had a nice and successful shopping day.

  17. Not a pleasant thing to think about but very important. We’re stuck with space heaters this winter (and lots of blankets). Made sure all the cords were intact and large enough for the load, heavier than necessary is better than too light and melted cords or plugs. GFCI outlets or heavy duty power strips or both. Tip shut offs on the heaters, absolutely nothing flammable around the heaters, keeping the floors swept of dust and dog hair and fire extinguishers easily to hand. A friend had a fire in her garage using a space heater that got a floating wad of dog hair caught in it that started burning, fortunately no real damage, as her husband was working out there and saw the sparks, flipped the power strip off and used the fire extinguisher. Make sure you extension cords are heavy enough gauge to handle the load, it’s important.

  18. Oh C. thoughts of fires terrifies me. Especially in an old barn housing animals and birds. You hear those horror stories and just shudder. I’m so glad you have provided an escape route for all your animals. If people would just think of that on their farms. Maybe you could publish an article to that effect in a publication such as Mother Earth News or Grit magazine.
    Can’t wait to hear about your trip to the city! Wasn’t it lovely to take a little side trip off the farm for a nice visit and some nice wine? 🙂

  19. Better to think about such things beforehand… for our old timber house as well. We’ve just updated our smoke alarms & upped the number to 3. And I’ve curbed my candle habit… if I burn perfumed candles or incense it is always in sturdy holders and within sight but for gentle light I’ve replaced them with rechargeable electric & solar candles.

  20. As I have said before, I’m a citygirl. As a matter of fact, I once lived right across the street from a fire department and grew inured to the sirens. I’d hear them in my sleep, think “Fire trucks”, turn over and continue sleeping. Now, after having read this harrowing account of what Can happen, I’m a fraidy-pants. This is good. Need to snuff out citygirl’s complacency. You teach me so much and I am discovering that I just love learning about all that you say. Take your vitamins, girlfriend. I want you around for a long, long time. Much love, Gayle…and much love to the Fellowship as well!

  21. Hi C….my father was an electrical engineer and we were raised to fear fire…..we had fire drills at our home and unplugged cords when not in use. (sigh) The washer and dryer were never running if we were leaving the house…….
    The irony was my brother, later in life, experienced two really bad fires. A spark from a car, that was started in the barn, burned the barn down and all the sheep that were outside ran into the barn and died……which made no sense. Only fire fighters are supposed to run into burning structures !!? Several years later his house burned to the ground……embers from a wood burning furnace……so yes..fire is something to plan against as best we can……I hope you had a great shopping trip !!

    • We never go put if any of our appliances are running. Once we noticed smoke coming from our dishwasher, which was running. Something had dropped out of the racks onto the bottom of the dishwasher, and was about to catch fire. If we hadn’t been home I hate to think what might have happened. You can never be too careful about fire!

    • barbie your poor brother and you are right – we can be as careful as we can but sometimes bad luck will hit up and as for those sheep! awful. If i stayed in the house every time i had the washing machine going I would be in all the time, I work outside so I am afraid I push play and leave. Sometimes we just have to hope for the best.

  22. In spite of it being mid-summer in Australia we seem to have the story and film of some private city house burning down almost every day – and do the fires move fast: oft just ten minutes to lose a home and all in it! Rather unexpectedly Christmas ‘toys’ which need recharging seem to have been the main culprits lately . . . . el cheapo from north of us . . . . unexpected explosion and no time to react!! But yours has to be done and I fully understand you having an eye open and an ear in hearing mode thru’ the night . . . do hope you managed all you had planned on your ‘expedition’ north !!

      • Actually do not agree! Because of circumstances have now bought ‘on-line’ for a number of years awfully successfully . . . and darling Miss C – one can actually ‘make friends’ in online department stores most successfully – the operators there also feel the need for personal contact and I mostly deal with ‘actual people’ who do send me what they feel great bargains and pertaining to my interests 😀 !! And it IS such fun buying at 11pm with a mug of green tea on the side 🙂 !

  23. We use heat lamps on most of our enclosures. We have clamps and chains, as well. It’s always good to have backup. We even have a fire evacuation plan for the animals.

  24. Not to frighten you needlessly but please check or have checked your outside electrical box. Our house is 130 years old and I believe the outbuildings are older. The electrical supply box by the meter was one commonly used on farms. When we replaced our old garage the electrician changed it to a proper circuit box as he said he had seen some of them get so hot they glowed! Scared the bejesus out of me for sure. It was something about how it was made and what it was made of. Apparently it was fine for the electrical loads at the time but couldn’t handle the increased modern ones. All of our animals save the chickens have run in living quarters, they are never closed in. The chickens have a heat lamp and the hanging bracket is screwed tight to the beam. Rather a chilly critter than a cooked one!

    • Our outside and inside box were remade when we added on so hopefully that will not be an issue but i will check with john – best to be careful – thank you sherry..

  25. There are heated rocks for iguanas – pet supplies. But still have cords to plug in. Fire is very much a concern. I am so glad you have escape hatches for the animals. There have been stable fires here with trapped horses – their desperation and screams would follow you forever. With a wind break, walls, and a dry bed with plenty of hay, animals can stay warm. A little fresh air never hurt a crowded barn. You’re a smart one.
    Summer project of running metal pipes that could house wires in winter? PVC melts in fire and gives off toxic fumes.
    Not ready for summer, but a loooong sunny spring would be wonderful for everyone.
    Please be careful hauling heavy stuff – that body has to last and function well a looooong time.

    • Yes. I agree about the metal pipes, I could do that right now actually, the pvc was for animals chewing on the wire – not stopping a fire. Maybe we should do research as to what POINT a fire is more likely to start – is it at the wall socket for instance (which would be my guess) – can a fire start in the middle of a line? And where should one do this research..c

      • I’m trying to relay what husband is saying (he keeps up with your farmy pictures and got a laugh over the tucking in of pigs). He says:
        Use conduit instead of pipe as it is cheaper because it is thinner and will work fine. Comes in 10-20 ft. lengths that you couple together (using screws) and there are pre-bent pieces if you need them. (If you use big enough conduit, you can slid cords in and out as needed)
        Extension cords must be heavy outdoor gage and check the rating (The longer the distance, the bigger the wire must be and the rating is a lower number.) Our heavy construction extension cords are orange…the thin green ones at home depot will not work.
        Also. You have to be careful plugging extension cords together: each time you do that resistance is increase which creates heat.(fire potential) Devices and appliances normally tell you how many extension cords are safe to use together – or if it is even safe to use them with extension cords. (You can duck tape/electrical tape cords together that are inside conduit to make sure they stay together.)
        HE started telling me how you could just get a big copper wire (low gauge number) and get an electrician to wire a plug at one end and a socket at the other…and on and on until I ask if he wanted to volunteer his services. He’s not a fan of cold however. Still he said talk to some electricians or someone who knows wiring about possibilities and who can see exactly what the site requires.
        I don’t know if extension cords in your cold climate get brittle/risk cracking over time – somebody up there ought to know if they need to be replaced yearly or something to stay safe?
        I think the biggest concern for fire starting would be at the source of electricity in the barn…multiple plugs in sockets can be risky…once again ask electrician how many are safe?
        More than you ever wanted to know…but maybe a starting point.
        Oh, in cold weather, keep those hands from cracking with lotion! Cold is so hard on skin.
        Fog lifted and a but of sun so off to make use of that. HUGS

        • Thank husband – all good advice. My father would give me a clip round the ears if I overloaded a socket and I never combine two extension cords. Ours are big and thick and EXPENSIVE so I feel better knowing they are good – and yes he is right – I need more plugs.. much love and thank you both! c

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