More than 500,000 US farm animals died in barn fires in 2022

Most fires occurred in the Upper Midwest and Northeast
calendar icon 21 December 2022
clock icon 3 minute read

More than 518,000 farm animals have perished in barn fires so far this year, pushing the death toll to more than 6.3 million since 2013, according to an Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) analysis released today. These devastating numbers, which likely do not even represent the full scale of the problem, serve as an urgent reminder to the industry to prioritize fire safety and prevention on farms.

Fire departments and municipalities are not required to report the number of animals killed in fires. AWI’s review of public records indicates that even departments that do submit fire incident reports to the US Fire Administration fail to acknowledge animal deaths, including in the most extreme cases involving hundreds of thousands of fatalities.

Barn fires impact a variety of farms — from hobby farms with a small number of animals to large commercial facilities housing tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of animals. As in previous years, the cause of most fires in 2022 was not conclusively determined. Many, however, are thought to have resulted from defective or improperly placed heating devices or, to a lesser degree, malfunctioning farming equipment.

As in previous years, barn fires in 2022 most often occurred in the Upper Midwest and Northeast. Of the 128 fires tracked by AWI this year, Wisconsin reported the most with 17, followed by New York with 14, Pennsylvania with 12, and Minnesota with 11.

Also consistent with previous years, chickens accounted for the overwhelming majority of farm animals suffering terrible deaths in fires (as reported by the media), representing over 98% of all casualties in 2022. A number of individual fires on large operations once again proved to have catastrophic consequences. The three largest fires — all of which involved poultry­­ — killed a total of 480,000 birds, representing 91% of the overall number. Two of those fires occurred in Minnesota and one in Pennsylvania.

Last week, a fire at a Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, poultry farm killed an estimated 250,000 chickens and caused $12 million in damages.

This year’s tally of farm animal deaths from barn fires follows a string of bad years in which millions of animals experienced untold suffering from burning to death. In 2020 and 2021 alone, more than 2.3 million animals lost their lives in barn fires.

No federal laws in the United States specifically protect farm animals from barn fires, and only a few states have adopted the National Fire Protection Association’s Fire and Life Safety in Animal Housing Facilities Code, which establishes safety requirements for animals in barns and other types of housing.

“It is simply irresponsible that the poultry industry continues to ignore the risks that come with cramming hundreds of thousands of birds into tight quarters on these massive operations,” said Allie Granger, policy associate for AWI’s farm animal program. “Under these conditions, emergency situations become death sentences, and it is hard to imagine anything worse than being burned alive. We hope the industry will remain focused on this issue and strongly encourage farms to adopt commonsense fire safety measures.”

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