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Barn fires can take away everything you know in an instantBarn fires can take away everything you know in an instant

A fire safety checkup in your buildings and grain bins will be worth the effort.

Tom Bechman 1

March 23, 2015

3 Min Read

The barn lights – not heat lamps – burned for nearly two months straight this winter in the lambing barn. We installed new cameras, and while they provide night vision, the image is much sharper if there is more light. So I always left these lights on. I finally shut them off after the last ewe lambed and we took down the cameras and tucked them away for next year.

Related: 7 Tips To Prevent Farm Barn And Building Fires


Four days later I was feeding in the barn when I heard a noise, looked up at the top of the entrance door, and saw flames shooting between to wires – one metal-encased wire and another wire. I instinctively hit the light switch and it stopped. Almost without thinking I flipped it on again to make sure I saw what I thought I saw. Poof! Flames shot out again and smoke tailed off after I shut off the switch. This time I also threw the breakers, and soon even threw the main breaker in the main panel for service coming into the farmstead.

Only the grace of God is behind that barn still standing. As the old country Western song about "Poncho and Lefty," two Mexican characters form the old West days, says, "The Federales say they could have had him any day…" The barn could have gone up in flames any night, any time. The genetics I've bred for would have been lost, along with the barns. Since our barns are close together, we likely would have lost them all.

I've written insurance stories about knowing what coverage you have in case certain things happen. This isn't about insurance. As one commercial for a competing company to some of the big giants says, "In a moment like this, you don't care if you can save 15% on car insurance in 15 minutes." The moment is when you've just had a wreck, and you are picking up pieces of your car off the road.

In a situation like this I really didn't care about the insurance – I had coverage and I'm sure financially I would have recovered more or less. But thinking about the loss of animals you care for and the whole thing of a fire, it makes you feel violated in some way.

This was a wake-up call, and when God slams you hard, you better respond. The bad wiring has been replaced. It should be safe to operate the barn again.

Like many people I floated along, getting by, thinking nothing would ever happen to me. It didn't. But it should have. Therein lies the life lesson.

Sometimes God has to beat you over the head with a two-by-four to get your attention. Once he gets it, don't make him have to use a second two-by-four. Take the hint the first time. The second shot might be a knock-out punch.

Take a good look at your wiring and outlets when you walk into an older barn next time. Are you safe? Don't be like me – I about had Mayhem, the funny guy from the All-State commercials – land in my farmstead in terms of burnt buildings and lost animals. Take the hint and do something about it before disaster strikes.

About the Author(s)

Tom Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

Tom Bechman is an important cog in the Farm Progress machinery. In addition to serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer, Tom is nationally known for his coverage of Midwest agronomy, conservation, no-till farming, farm management, farm safety, high-tech farming and personal property tax relief. His byline appears monthly in many of the 18 state and regional farm magazines published by Farm Progress.

"I consider it my responsibility and opportunity as a farm magazine editor to supply useful information that will help today's farm families survive and thrive," the veteran editor says.

Tom graduated from Whiteland (Ind.) High School, earned his B.S. in animal science and agricultural education from Purdue University in 1975 and an M.S. in dairy nutrition two years later. He first joined the magazine as a field editor in 1981 after four years as a vocational agriculture teacher.

Tom enjoys interacting with farm families, university specialists and industry leaders, gathering and sifting through loads of information available in agriculture today. "Whenever I find a new idea or a new thought that could either improve someone's life or their income, I consider it a personal challenge to discover how to present it in the most useful form, " he says.

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