By Tom Collins
OMAFRA is testing two prototype pieces of equipment designed to help farmers stop fires before they start.
OMAFRA is working with Harvest Robotics on one prototype that measures air quality. The prototype takes a reading every 15 minutes, and when the level of methane or hydrogen sulfide gets too high, it sends an alert to the farmer’s phone so the farmer can ventilate the barn.
OMAFRA is working with Farm & Food Care Ontario on a second prototype, a camera that measures the temperature of whatever it is pointed at and sends alerts to a farmer’s phone if the temperature rises beyond a certain point. The prototype can be pointed at electrical systems, heaters or hay bales. If hay isn’t dry enough, heat-tolerant microorganisms can develop in the bales, raising the temperature enough to potentially cause a fire.
The prototypes will start to be installed in barns in Lambton, Oxford, Huron and Perth counties this month. It may be a couple of years before something is on the market for farmers to purchase.
The prototypes could also be used for machine sheds, hay barns or tool sheds.
“One of the challenges of agriculture is you have all different kinds of barns, you have all different kinds of methods of production, you have older style barns and then you have brand new barns with the latest technology and ventilation,” said OMAFRA environmental specialist Jacqui Empson Laporte. “From a barn fire prevention perspective, we’re trying to find something that is economically feasible for a variety of all of those barns.”
The latest statistics from the Ontario Fire Marshall says there were 142 barn fires in Ontario in 2016. That’s an average of one every two-and-a-half days. The average loss per barn in 2016 was $246,478. Nearly half of the fires, 42 per cent, had no determined cause. The single most common known cause was mechanical or electrical failure, occurring in 22 per cent of all fires.