It takes just 6 minutes for fire to raze a barn, says safety expert

Six minutes. That's how little time it takes for a barn to be razed by fire, says farm safety expert.

Having sprinkler systems would be helpful, but most farms don't have the water supply

A $1-million barn fire in Tecumseh on Monday killed more than 100 head of cattle. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

Six minutes. Less time that it takes to boil an egg. That's how little time it takes for a barn to be razed by fire, says the past president of the Essex County Federation of Agriculture's Farm Safety Association.

Bonnie Popov can't speak to what could have been done to save Jobin Farms on Monday evening, when a $1-million fire killed more than 100 head of cattle and destroyed barns and out buildings on the Tecumseh farm.

Popov did say farmers, in general, need to inspect their barns for potential hazards.

Fire started at Jobin Farms when straw piled up near a shredding machine ignited.

The Ontario fire marshal is not investigating because the cause is known but Popov says more investigations could lead to better preventive practices.

Popov says most barns are fully engulfed in six minutes because of the combustible feed and bedding.

"You want to make sure you have a fire extinguisher on hand, probably maybe two or three in the barn, different areas of the barn," she said.

She says having sprinkler systems would be helpful but says most farms don't have the water supply and it might be costly for municipalities to install hydrants in rural areas.

In the case of Jobin Farms, firefighters had to make several trips to and from the scene to fill tanker trucks because there were no hydrants close to the farm.

Another major challenge is that livestock only want to go through exits they are used to. Fire separated some of Jobin's cattle from their usual exit by the fire.

"Those dairy cattle always knew that they went this way and out. Well, that's the way they wanted to go, but the farmer was trying to get them out the other way because the fire was over here," Popov said. "They went to that area because that's the way they normally went, so it was difficult for them to get them all out."

The fire at Jobin Farms was the eighth major deadly barn fire in southwestern Ontario this year.

Mark Balkwill, past president of the Essex County Federation of Agriculture, says the bigger the farms get, the worse the death and destruction when fire erupts.

"Livestock herds are increasing and getting larger all the time, so we're seeing more what they call livestock units or animal units inside of these barns, and as we go to bigger agriculture, larger barns, you're going to see more fatalities when there is fire, and for some reason in Ontario this year, there's just been a number of them and large losses."

Only 100 of the 225 cattle at Jobin Farms survived. They are being housed at farms in Essex County. Balkwill has taken in about 25 cows.

With files from Dale Molnar