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April 12, 2008

Barn Fire and Stall Latches

  2008 Cherry Hill   Copyright Information

Hi Cherry,

I really enjoy your books and website, but I have a suggestion for fire safety, which I have never encountered before or since our barn fire.

Our barn was the typical "big old red barn" with large sliding doors at each end, which, as you know, are latched from the inside. When our10-stall barn burned down in January 2005, we realized the danger of having only two man-doors that allowed access from the outside! It was wintertime, and the sliding aisle-way doors were latched from the inside, as well as two stall exits. We were only able to save one horse (of six) because my dad had a superman moment, and was able to tear apart one of the stall exits. There was just no way to get into the barn.

Your books were very helpful in building our new barn. Only 4 stalls this time, and each stall has a Dutch-door with a latch that can be operated from either side. We still have sliding aisle doors, but the are rarely secured!

I don't expect a reply; I know you get tons of mail. Just consider my tragic lesson learned next time you discuss fire safety or barn building!

Thanks, Lisa

Hi Lisa,

I'd like to post your tip but I'm unclear on the doors. I see you had the large sliding doors latched from the inside. But how did you normally get into the barn yourself? You mentioned only having two man doors - were these not usable during the fire? Were they both located where the fire was blazing? Just a bit more detail would be helpful. I appreciate it and I know other horse owners would too.


The fire started in the middle of the barn. It was about half involved when we discovered it. We were able to get into the man-doors, one at each end, but couldn't get in far enough to reach the sliding door latches (or horses) for all the smoke. My dad was willing to try, but we thought sliding the aisleway doors open might fuel the fire. There was no way the horses could be rescued from the aisle, anyway. The two stall access doors were secured from the inside with a boltsnap-and-eyehook. Like I said before, Dad was able to rip one of them open.

We did have an overhead hay loft. Although the fire did not start there, it created an incredible amount of smoke (and incidentally, smoldered for a LONG time after all was said and done.) Two separate fire investigators could not find a definite cause. One of them said his best guess would be "dust on a lightbulb".

There are not many options for securing a large sliding door, so in the new barn, we had to go with the old latches. We did not like the Dutch Door Latchlook of the overhead garage door. For the stall exits, we built Dutch doors with a twisting latch that can be used from either side. I suppose a clever horse could figure it out.... but I'll cross that bridge if I ever come to it!

I guess my biggest recommendation is to have a working escape door for each stall. Believe me, my family and I deal with the loss of our horses every day. I teach riding lessons, too, so I also had to explain everything to six little girls and help them deal with their grief as well as my own.

Thanks for your time, I know you are busy!

Hi Lisa,

Thanks so much for sharing your story and suggestions with other horse owners.

Horse HousingOur recommendation is to have two doors to every stall - one that opens to the barn aisle and one that opens to the outdoors, such as to a pen. We also recommend that the exterior stall door has a safe, horseproof latch that can be opened from the inside or the outside.

Your Horse Barn DVDWe show and demonstrate the custom-made latches that Richard made for our barn in the video Your Horse Barn and also show a photo of a commercial two-way latch in the book Horse Housing.

Finding a suitable two-way latching system can be difficult and that is why Richard created custom latches for our barn.

Such an issue bears repeating and deserves great emphasis and I thank you for bringing it to the attention of other horse owners.

Best of luck,

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