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Infrared inspections look to curb barn fires

Farmers now have access to infrared inspections through the Manitoba Farm Safety Program

The barn fire that killed over 3,500 pigs near New Bothwell in June has led to a new program to prevent similar blazes.

The Manitoba Farm Safety Program introduced infrared barn inspections Sept. 12. Inspectors use infrared cameras to map temperature and tag hot spots that might ignite, such as faulty wiring inside walls.

Electrical wiring is commonly considered a main source of barn fires, particularly in older buildings. High humidity and fumes may cause wires to corrode over time, causing electrical shorts. Rodents may also chew insulation, increasing the risk of an electrical fire.

Program director Keith Castonguay says the new inspections were a response to this latest major barn fire, although it is far from the first time a barn blaze has made news.

A number of barn fires pop into headlines each year, including a fire in March 2015 in Kola, Man., which killed 1,500 pigs, followed the next month by a fire killing 3,000 pigs near Steinbach. The year before, about 5,000 chickens were lost in a fire near La Broquerie, while 2011 saw 8,000 chickens killed north of Brandon in March, followed by 12,000 chickens killed in a Manitou fire in July. Another infamous rash of fires in 2008 claimed over 30,000 pigs and led the industry to reassess fire safety.

The farm safety program’s inspections are largely aimed at hog barns, Castonguay said, although chicken and dairy barns are also included.

“The intensity of a barn fire is such that it’s very difficult to determine the cause of it but there is speculation that (it is) due to the corrosive nature of some of the gases that are present, whether H2S or whether it’s ammonia, or there’s straw that’s built up,” he said. “The source of ignition has to be found in a proactive way rather than after. If we can go through and find potential hot spots so that the farmer can deal with them in an earlier, faster way; if we can prevent one barn fire we’d be very happy.”

On the other end of the spectrum, farmers can call on the program to assess insulation, its website states.

The inspections have gained only limited interest so far, a situation Castonguay hopes will change once harvest eases.

“We didn’t expect a whole lot right now,” he said. “Now we’re starting to much more aggressively go after it.”

Castonguay has reached out to producer groups to promote the program and manage scheduling.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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