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House Fires Increasing in Frequency and Cost

03/23/2021

EGG-NEWS has recently reported on fires in both pullet rearing and laying complexes.  The frequency of events and the escalating magnitude of losses is of concern to all stakeholders.  The traditional high-rise house erected during the 1990s contained 120,000 to 200,000 hens.  New multi-level aviary units house on average 300,000 hens.  Since fires usually destroy at least one building, losses in structures, equipment, installations and flocks have increased the size of claims.. This fact will not escape the insurance industry that will most certainly be re-evaluating risks and rates. Consequential losses including interruption of business and loss of markets are sadditional losses following a fire.

 

Most barn fires are caused by an electrical fault. Dust in poorly constructed electrical panels and in  rooms with high-voltage installations, often with stored inflammable material will contribute to the likelyhood of a fire extending to the entire building.  In rural areas, standard electrical codes are frequently ignored especially if untrained electricians are responsible for installations.  The delay between an outbreak of a fire and detection, especially at night, inevitably results in extensive spread from the initial source whether an overheated fan or an electrical panel, resulting in loss of at least one building.  New multi-level aviary units are considerably higher than older high-rise units.  Unless inter-house spacing is increased proportionally to height, the risk of spread from a burning house to adjoining buildings is increased as evidenced by recent events involving two to three adjacent houses on a complex.

 

Despite the risk of fire and consequential losses, many new houses are constructed with that extensive use of wood, pressboard, and inflammable panels.  The lack of installations to suppress a fire hampers first responders that frequently are unable to control a fire after their arrival. Their activities are then directed to saving adjoining houses or in some cases in-line packing plants.  Many complexes equipped with manure belt systems or aviaries have erected manure storage barns.  These structures are susceptible to spontaneous combustion and if located adjacent to production buildings may result in extensive loss. 

 

Given the requirements of insurance companies in the future, fire prevention and suppression modalities will be required to obtain coverage. Approaches to the design  of complexes to limit damage from fire will include:-

 

  • Establishing appropriate distances between houses based on the height of buildings
  • Removal of foliage from the vicinity of houses that could be a source of a fire
  • Ensuring that electrical installations conform to acceptable UL codes
  • Reducing or eliminating inflammable material in the construction of houses
  • Installation of fire-detection sensors and alarm systems
  • Providing sufficient available water on site for first responders
  • Cooperation with local municipal and volunteer fire companies to plan a response to a fire including location of water and other resources

 

Companion postings on PMSI fire detection and response installations and Agricon fire-resistant buildings denote progress in reducing the risk and consequences of fires in pullet and laying houses.