Lessons learned at Classy Lane Stables in wake of devastating barn fire

A year after fire destroyed a barn on her property, killing the 43 racehorses inside, Barb Millier is encouraging other farmers and property owners to update their fire prevention practices.

Facility owner says 'there's a lot of little things that can be done' to keep a barn safe

The improvements to Classy Lane Stables included building Barn Six, which replaced the barn that burned to the ground on the evening of Jan. 4, 2016. (Melanie Ferrier/CBC)

A year after fire destroyed a barn on her property in Puslinch Township, Ont., killing the 43 racehorses inside, Barb Millier is encouraging other farmers and property owners to update their fire prevention practices.

"There's a lot of little things that can be done that people just don't realize until it happens," Millier said. "What I really want to do is get the word out to people that you can do more to make it safe."

She and her partner Jamie Millier thought they had done everything to keep Classy Lane Stables, a training facility for standardbred harness racers, safe, but on the evening of Jan. 4, 2016, one of their barns caught fire and burned to the ground in a matter of hours.

An aerial shot of the aftermath of the Classy Lane barn fire taken from a drone. (David Ritchie/CBC)

An investigation by the Ontario Fire Marshal revealed that an electrical failure was to blame for the fire, although the Fire Marshal was unable to determine whether the fire was caused by a simple failure of the building's electrical supply, or whether it started in one of the kitchen's three appliances.

After the fire, Millier said she and her partner began to research better ways to protect their barns in the future. It took a bit of digging, but she says they finally settled on a short list of improvements, which were tested in one barn, and then rolled out in all six barns. 

  • They replaced all electrical outlets with arc fault outlets, which shut off if there is anything wrong with the appliances that are plugged into them.
  • They put timers on all the dryers in the laundry rooms, so that they could not be used over night.
  • They installed heat and smoke detectors, which – if triggered – set off strobe lights and a siren outside the barns and send text messages to eight cell phones
  • They installed a dry suppressant system in all barn offices and laundry rooms, which operate similar to traditional sprinkler systems, but emit a dry powder similar to baking soda.

"We feel quite comfortable with what we've done and we feel we've done all we can," Millier said.

Barb Millier says horse trainers and owners are no longer allowed to plug appliances into outlets in the barn aisles, but are only allowed to use appliances in the barn offices. (Melanie Ferrier/CBC)

"It's been a tough year for us, that's for sure, because we as a business lost revenue on that barn and everything else, and these features that we've put in have cost us way beyond what the insurance covered, but it's something we had to do to have peace of mind and feel comfortable again after that happened. We couldn't do it any other way."

Millier said the improvements have been well received, not just by the horse owners and trainers who use the facility, but also by others in the horse industry.

She hopes anyone who owns a barn will learn from her experience, and find ways protect their property from fire before disaster strikes.