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Wildfire safety recommendations discussed

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

In a recent University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) BeefWatch podcast dated May 3, Nebraska Extension Educator Randy Saner discusses “Protecting farms and ranches from wildfire,” from the May issue of the BeefWatch newsletter.  

During the podcast, Saner reviews safety measures and other tips producers should consider in an effort to avoid and minimize fire damage. 

Current conditions and strategic planning 

As producers look towards spring and summer drought conditions, wildfires may continue to be present across the West. Saner recommends producers have windmills turned on and ensure there is a good water supply in case of a fire. 

“One thing we want to make sure on the farm or ranch is we have adequate water supply,” he shares. “People need to be turning on their windmills and making sure their tanks are full because the local fire departments will use the tanks if they need to fill with back up water.”

During some fires, operations may lose electrical power, so it will be important to have these tanks readily available, he says. 

Farmers and ranchers should avoid driving all-terrain vehicles, tractors and bale feeders through dead, tall grass. 

“If there is any kind of spark or increased heat from catalytic converters, they can actually start a fire,” he notes. “Producers should stay out of tall grass if at all possible.” 

For farmers and ranchers using irrigation systems, he suggests keeping these areas free of combustible materials. Some systems take fuel to run, but, if at all possible, an electrical irrigation system poses a lower risk of damage during a fire.   

“Producers may want to run an irrigation well to wet things down,” he adds. “They should also check things around houses and buildings and make sure these areas are free of weeds, dead grass and other debris – dead trees and any kind of brush.”

Producers are encouraged to park tractors and other equipment away from fuel sources – gas, fuel tanks, buildings, hay stacks and storage containers. Above ground fuel storage should be at least 40 feet away from buildings. 

“If tractors are hooked up to a disk, producers may use the equipment to make a fire break,” Saner adds. 

Safety measures 

There are several safety measures producers should consider prior to fire season. In the article, Saner and Nebraska Extension Educator Rob Eirich encourage producers to install and maintain smoke detectors. They can be installed in barns and buildings and should be checked at least once per month, with batteries changed once per year. 

Producers should develop an escape or evacuation plan, which should include how to transport animals and livestock in case of a fire. 

“If you can get livestock out – if they are in a barn, just turning them out of the enclosure will help them be able to get away from the fire in most cases,” Saner says. “If producers can move them before hand, it would be a good idea – this doesn’t always work or is feasible, but if they can, it will really help.” 

In addition, producers should have emergency numbers posted in a central location, including the fire and police departments, local emergency response coordinators and others who can provide emergency assistance. 

Having fire extinguishers in all barns, vehicles and tractors is highly recommended as well, they share. 

During a fire 

In the newsletter, Saner and Eirich note human life must be the first priority, property comes second. When firefighters arrive, they may ask what to save first – livestock, machinery or feed. Be prepared beforehand, they add. 

If someone becomes trapped in a burning barn or building, practice fire safety: get out quickly; stay low and cover your mouth with cloth; close doors after escaping rooms to slow the spread; keep doors closed if smoke is pouring in the room at the bottom of the door and the door feels hot; open a window to escape or for fresh air while waiting to be rescued; and if no smoke is coming under the door and it is not hot, open it to escape. 

Available resources

If producers are impacted by a fire, there are several resources available to help. 

Fighting fires takes a mental toll on firefighters and producers impacted by the fire. Saner encourages producers to utilize a rural health or suicide prevention hotline. 

Some rural departments can help with livestock and feed needs, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture has some programs designed to help producers who are impacted by catastrophic fires, he notes. 

“Make sure during a fire, a producer’s first priority is to get themselves and their family out safe,” Saner concludes. “We don’t want to lose human lives – make sure everyone is safe because it’s the most important thing.” 

Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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