Horse farm fire is horrific; fire toll on poultry & pigs is thousands of times worse
MARTINSVILLE, Indiana––A pre-dawn fire ripped through the Springcliff Farm foaling operation in Martinsville, Indiana on January 6, 2022, killing an as yet unknown number of horses.
“The call came in around 4:50 a.m. from a neighbor,” White River Township firefighter Brandon Shireman posted to Facebook. “The temperature at that time was 14 degrees Fahrenheit, and when the first units arrived the barn was almost fully involved. Not sure if any fire detection or heating devices were being used.”
“Multiple agencies responded”
Said a Springcliff Farm media release posted within hours by both Bloodhorse and the Paulick Report, “Multiple agencies responded to the fire and it was contained after a couple of hours.
“Owners Christine and Vince Cagle have spent the morning contacting broodmare owners to alert to their loss,” the Springcliff Farm release continued, “as well as working with surrounding farms and veterinary agencies to make arrangements for surviving horses. A final count of horses perished and those injured has not [yet] been made.
“A cause has not been confirmed,” the announcement added. “South Central Indiana experienced high winds and dropping temperatures throughout the past couple of days.”
“Tommy is on fire”
Founded by veterinarian John Thomas in 1864, Springcliff Farm was sold to the Cagles in 2017. Under the Cagles, Springcliff Farm has foaled about 35 horses per year, reporting annual revenue of about $260,000.
The seventh reported barn fire of 2022, in only six days, the Springcliff Farm blaze came a month less a day after Springcliff Farm LLC posted to Facebook that they were “in need of a part time person to help with stalls, feeding and turn out. Will get experience in foaling to take with you. It will be cold and must be able to lift a 50 pound bale of hay and feed bags. Must be dependable!!!!!”
Two weeks after that, Springcliff Farm LLC in an unfortunately worded posting about a stallion stud, said “Tommy is on fire and whatever he is doing …… you might consider! We have one in foal to Speightsong and have another scheduled for this year. Keep those coals hot Tommy!”
The fate of those horses, as with all the others at Springcliff Farm, remains unknown.
Animal Welfare Institute
Whatever the number of horses who perished, though, the circumstances surrounding the Springcliff Farm fire appear to be rather typical of barn fires, except that death toll will almost certainly be magnitudes of order less than the norm, as documented by Barn Fires: A Deadly Threat to Farm Animals, initially published by the Animal Welfare Institute in mid-2021.
Recently updated to include complete 2021 numbers, links to the new edition of Barn Fires: A Deadly Threat to Farm Animals were distributed by Animal Welfare Institute public relations manager Marjorie Fishman––who appeared to be as yet unaware of the Springcliff Farm disaster––even as the embers were cooling.
More than 100 barn fires per year
Summarized Fishman, “More than 681,000 farm animals perished in potentially preventable barn fires in 2021, according to an Animal Welfare Institute analysis of media reports [about barn fires. This follows the worst year on record for fatal barn fires and brings the total number of farm animal deaths in the last two years alone to a staggering 2.3 million.”
During the four-year period 2019-2021,” Fishman said, “539 fires killed nearly three million animals. The average number of animals killed in barn fires each year was more than 748,000 animals, a 36% increase from the number of annual deaths reported in 2013–2017.”
More than 5.8 million animals died in barn fires from 2013 through 2021, according to the Animal Welfare Institute data.
98% of the victims are poultry
While the Springcliff Farm casualties were thoroughbred racehorses, with individual names and pedigrees, “Nearly 98% of the farm animals killed [in 2021] were poultry,” Fishman observed, “with egg-laying hens accounting for the largest share of fatalities, followed by chickens raised for meat.
“The majority of barn fires,” the Animal Welfare Institute found, “occurred in colder weather, with more than twice as many fires occurring during the winter compared to summer.
“Most often,” wrote Fishman, “the cause of barn fires is not conclusively determined. Many, however, are believed to result from electrical malfunctions or defective/improperly placed heating devices. In other cases, faulty equipment or machinery has been the suspected cause.
Cage-free barns appear especially vulnerable
“As was the case in 2020,” Fishman continued, “the three largest fires in 2021 involved egg-laying hens in industrial-scale cage-free facilities, even though only 30% of all hens are cage-free. Collectively, these incidents took the lives of 433,000 hens, or nearly 64% of all animals killed in barn fires in 2021.”
ANIMALS 24-7, tracking barn fires since 1986, noticed the same phenomenon both in 2014 and in 2020.
(See Cage-free egg farm fire kills 65,000 hens, revives attention to lack of sprinklers in barns and “No injuries” says Michael Foods of fire that killed 400,000 hens.)
“As large-scale producers increasingly transition to cage-free housing,” Fishman said, “the Animal Welfare Institute suspects that high levels of dust, alone or in combination with litter, may contribute to the number and severity of fires in cage-free barns.”
More than 40,000 pigs trapped in intensive confinement barns were a distant second to chickens in number of barn fire deaths in 2021.
“Disaster is all but assured in conventional, industrial farming operations, which cram animals by the thousands into barns with no chance of escape,” charged Animal Welfare Institute farm animal program director Dena Jones.
“Although effective fire suppression methods are available, the industry continues to allow millions of helpless farm animals to burn to death without changing course. Barn fires are not a necessary evil,” Jones emphasized. “They can be prevented with proper planning, including such simple steps as installing smoke detectors or repairing faulty space heaters.”
Elaborated Fishman, “Though these numbers are shocking, they likely fail to represent the full scale of the problem. Fire departments and municipalities are not required to report the number of animals killed in fires. Additionally, based on records received by the Animal Welfare Institute through public records requests, even the departments that do submit fire incident reports to the U.S. Fire Administration fail to acknowledge animal deaths, including in the most extreme cases that involve hundreds of thousands of fatalities.”
The Animal Welfare Institute recommends that “Producers should invest in structural renovations, such as smoke detection systems and on-site water storage units,” especially “in areas that have little access to reliable water sources.”
Further, the Animal Welfare Institute suggests that, “At minimum, state government agencies should incorporate the National Fire Protection Association’s Fire and Life Safety in Animal Housing Facilities Code into their state fire codes and improve the tracking and recording of these incidents to better understand the scale of the problem.”
Why no heat-sensing sprinkler heads?
The Animal Welfare Institute report Barn Fires: A Deadly Threat to Farm Animals echoes and underscores the major points made by ANIMALS 24-7 in extensive coverage of barn fires since 1986.
(See Barn fire safety: it’s personal.)
Specifically, barn fires are much more common than is generally recognized, killing far more animals.
Barn fires are mostly preventable if barns are built and maintained as if animals’ lives matter.
Industry practice continues to be to write off barn fires as just a cost of doing business.
Yet barn fires often put individual farmers permanently out of business, because the cost of rebuilding facilities that are typically underinsured tends to exceed the farmers’ lines of credit.
In particular, ANIMALS 24-7 recommends that heat-sensing sprinkler heads similar to those required in most other places of business be added to the existing water lines in every working barn that supply water on demand to the animals.
Annoula Wylderich says
These reports get me every time. . .whether it’s horses, pigs, cows, chickens or other farm animals who were unable to escape a fire or a flood. For those of us who can empathize, we imagine their terror and suffering and helplessness. After so many years and incidents, one would think, by now, that safety requirements would be in place. Guess we still have a long way to go towards becoming a more compassionate society. We are selectively compassionate, unfortunately.
Jamaka Petzak says
Coincidentally or not, I was thinking about this issue last night, only to wake up to this latest report of avoidable tragedy.
Heat-sensing sprinkler heads should be legally required for all structures housing animals in this manner.
Sharing with gratitude and sorrow.
Mary Finelli says
The failure of farmers to install such safeguards, and of companies to demand them, reflects the lack of concern they have for the animals’ well-being, despite all their lip service about it.
Merritt and Beth Clifton says
Right on Mary!!