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Devastating barn fires kill thousands of animals, cost farmers millions every year

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"I could hear them kicking and screaming, they were actual screams."

That's how Ron Winget, a barn manager at a Chatham Township horse ranch, described the sounds nine horses were making when the barn went up in flames last week, KSTP reported.

He, along with 17-year-old Wyatt Stueven, tried to free the dozen or so horses in and around the barn. Nine died, but they were able to get four to safety, WCCO says.

Stueven had been driving by the ranch when he noticed the fire. He didn't think twice before he stopped and ran to help Winget.

“It was sad. They’re not my horses, but it’s not any way for animals to go – to be trapped in there in the fire,” Stueven told WCCO.

Fire departments from Buffalo, Maple Lake and Monticello all responded to the fire, which may have been electrical – one of the main causes of livestock barn fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Winget told KSTP the farm's loss will be in the millions.

Barn fires cost millions

Devastating fires like the one in Wright County cost farmers millions of dollars a year. There were roughly 1,920 barn (livestock and storage) fires reported in the U.S. from 2002-2010, which were responsible for roughly $269.6 million in direct property damage, the NFPA reports.

Although the number of barn fires has dropped roughly 94 percent since 1980, when 14,190 barn structure fires were reported, the number of livestock building fires in Minnesota reached a five-year high in 2013, the Star Tribune reported.

Such fires lead to thousands of livestock being killed every year in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest.

A few examples over the years: Roughly 300,000 hens were killed in a Wisconsin fire last February; nearly 1,000 hogs were killed in a south-central Minnesota barn fire in February 2014; thousands of piglets and hogs were killed in a southern Minnesota barn fire in October 2014; 17,000 turkeys were killed in a Stearns County fire in 2012.

The NFPA says the majority of barn fires are caused by the misuse of heaters or other electrical equipment and occur most frequently in the late winter and early spring.

Fire protection

Incidents where thousands of animals are killed in a single blaze has sparked debate in recent years about how much fire protection animals should receive – especially for those animals housed with many others on large-scale farms, the Star Tribune said.

Animal welfare advocates and fire protection agencies suggested requiring sprinklers and smoke control systems in livestock barns (this is already a requirement for hard-to-move or dangerous animals like those in a zoo), but animal producers shot down the idea, saying it was too inclusive and would put a financial burden on farmers, WATT reported in 2012.

Insurance companies are also working with farms to make sure they follow proper standards to best prevent fires, including coming up with a plan for what to do should a livestock barn catch fire, the Star Tribune said.

Currently, there is no national requirement for firefighters to be trained in technical large animal rescues, however there are several programs throughout the U.S. that provide such training.

Some fire departments in southern Minnesota, where farms are more prevalent, have been trained in what to do if a tractor trailer carrying animals crashes on the highway.

There are nonprofits that help train firefighters in Basic Animal Rescue Training (BART) in Minnesota, which teaches them what to do in the event of rescuing a domestic animal.

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