Methane and ammonia gases from livestock a contributor to barn fires in Ontario

An industry group is presenting its findings on barn fires and livestock truck rollovers to the Middlesex County Council in London on Tuesday.

The gases lead to the corrosion of electrical systems in livestock buildings, according to industry group

Firefighters battled a blaze that led to the complete collapse of a livestock barn in Plympton-Wyoming, east of Sarnia, on Jan. 31, 2017. The fire caused an estimated $3-million in damages. (Ontario Provincial Police)

Methane and ammonia gases emitted by farm animals is contributing to barn fires in Ontario, according to an industry group.

Farm and Food Care Ontario (FFCO), an organization that works to build public trust in food and farming, has identified corroded electrical components, exacerbated by the gases produced by livestock, as a leading cause.

"In swine and certain parts of dairy barns, there are corrosive gases like methane and ammonia," said Bruce Kelly, a program manager at FFCO.

"And we've upgraded a lot of our building materials that are lasting longer, but then we've got little metal prongs on a plug, and that's what's letting us down due to corrosion."

Farm fires have been identified by FFCO as one of the most important animal welfare issues that impact farmers and the public's perception of farming.

According to data from Ontario's Office of the Fire Marshal, there's an average of 71 barn fires a year across the province where animals are involved, causing thousands of animal fatalities and an annual loss of about $18.5-million. In 2016, there were 73 barn fires, causing losses of $25.4-million.

"About half of the barn fires, the actual cause is unknown because the damage is so extensive," said Kelly

"But over the last number of years, we've had a number of incidents where the fire has not totally engulfed the barn and we were able to do an investigation."

Kelly says nearly half of those fires were the result of a faulty electrical system.

A corroded electrical receptacle from a barn. (Food and Farm Care Ontario)

"It's specifically the corrosion of open plugs and receptacles," he said.

The group has applied for funding to put together an education and awareness campaign for farmers in hopes of dramatically reducing the number of barn fires.

One recommendation for farmers is to implement the use of water and corrosion resistant electrical connectors, similar to those used in food production facilities.

Implementing system designs that limit or eliminate control systems in locations where animals are present is also being urged.

Rodent damage has also been a factor in compromising electrical systems, so utilizing plastic conduit to protect electrical lines is recommended.

Thermo-imaging technology is also being used to identity any hot spots in an electrical system, pointing to areas that that could be corroded.

Livestock rollovers

Another initiative coming from FFCO will tackle the ongoing issue of livestock transport rollovers.

"Truck rollovers happen in the worst places, they're either on the side of the road on Highway 17 in Northern Ontario, or they happen on the 427 exit ramp at the bottom of the Gardiner Expressway," said Kelly.

"And none of those places are good for cows or swine to be running loose."

The group will provide training for first responders and livestock transporters that will give them the tools to better ensure the safety of the people and animals involved in livestock emergencies.

The detailed plans for the project will be presented at the Middlesex County Council meeting in London on Tuesday.

The FFCO will find out if it receives funding approval for the project in the coming weeks, with a roll-out planned to start in December.