Cattle inside a barn

Into the Ashes

The devastating loss of life of animals in barn fires


A crackling hum pervades the atmosphere; the temperature rises, you gasp for breath, yet there is no air. Your surroundings fill with black smoke, confused and confined; the hum turns to a roar. You try to flee, but barricades stop you, doors are closed, and there is nowhere to hide. Panic. The screams surrounding you are deafening. Your body trembles in ways you have never felt, yet your cries go unheard as burning hot haze surrounds your body. There is no way out and no rescue. The heat is unbearable, in absolute terror, the fire slowly consumes you.

What seems like a horror story is the true harrowing reality for the millions of animals worldwide who burn to death in barn fires every single year. Although exact statistics are hard to establish, an estimated one million farm animals are killed in barn fires each year in the UK. In Germany, there was a devastating barn fire where more than 56,000 pigs were burnt alive in 20211, the country averages 1.5 barn fires involving animals per day. The Netherlands saw the deaths of almost 160 thousand animals in 2022 alone.2 And earlier this year, the USA recorded its largest farm fire in history – 18,000 cattle succumbed to the blaze which ripped through the dairy farm in the state of Texas.3 Worldwide, the sheer number of deaths is nothing short of catastrophic.

Chicken shed destroyed by a barn fire

A fire ripped through a chicken shed at an egg farm located in Australia – 45,000 individuals perished.

Chicken that were killed because of the fire at the egg farm in Australia

The victims of these fires are usually those animals kept in intensive farming systems, where huge barns are planned and built without any outdoor access for the animals. Fire safety measures are knowingly ignored here despite some building codes demanding otherwise. With these large stables increasingly placed in rural areas further away from farmer's residence, the animals are at the mercy of technology. When the fires start, the animals are trapped, unable to flee to safety. The smoke, flames, and heat quickly consume the barn, leaving the animals with no chance of survival.

Small electrical defects repeatedly lead to cable fires. In such a case, it is almost always too late for the animals. Even if an alarm is routed directly to the animal owner's phone, due to the way the buildings are constructed, it is almost always a terrible fate. Within these farms, there are no outdoor areas accessible from the barn. Gates are kept closed and the animals burn alive.

Calf that was rescued after a barn fire in Vermont

Seven calves were rescued from the barn fire that killed 130 Jersey cows on a Vermont dairy farm.

Calf that burnt to death after the fire at a farm in Vermont

It is difficult to comprehend the magnitude of the suffering that occurs during these fires. And it is hard to imagine the pain and terror that these animals endure in their final moments.

As consumers, it is important for us to consider the impact of our choices. By choosing to consume animal products, we are contributing to an industry that places profits above the well-being of animals. We need to see a vast reduction of the numbers of farmed animals and to support plant-based farming and plant-based diets (find out more what you can do here).

For those animals who are still farmed, we have a responsibility to demand better from the animal agriculture industry and to support more humane farming practices. In the wake of these tragedies, there are steps that can be taken to prevent future barn fires. Proper equipment maintenance, regular safety inspections, and adequate fire prevention measures are all crucial.

As a critical step towards protecting millions of lives, FOUR PAWS demands the following: 

  • Exclusive approval of barns that allow animals to be rescued in the event of a fire
  • Rescue options such as adjacent runs and mobile rescue pens
  • Stricter fire protection requirements for the construction and operation of animal husbandry facilities
  • In principle, animals must know how to access the open air and be used to using runs in order to be able to evacuate them there in the event of a fire
  • Fireproof sections, which contain a possible fire that could break out, in every larger barn
  • Implementation of the requirements of the model building regulations for barn constructions to save people and animals
  • Extinguishing water supply must be sufficient for the size of the company

It is deliberate cruelty to animals when again and again animal housing facilities are approved and built without sufficient fire-proof building materials and without any provision for animal rescue in the event of a fire. FOUR PAWS strongly criticises this common practice in the construction and operation of industrial livestock farms. Fire safety requirements are not taken seriously for farms. No farms should be approved that do not allow animals to be rescued immediately in case of such a situation. 

Farmed animals are sentient beings who feel complex emotions and family structures. They should be legally protected and treated with dignity. Industrial animal husbandry is not only an imposition for the animals, but it also significantly destroys our planet. At FOUR PAWS, we are demanding a fundamental rethinking of both politics and industry. The needs of animals must be in focus, where animal production is reduced and alternatives to animal-based products are promoted.

In this coming year, we are faced with a monumental opportunity to change the lives of millions of farm animals around the world. At the European level, 2024 will see multiple vital legislations under revision, and we are urging the European institutions to make major changes for the keeping of farmed animals within Europe. This opportunity can lead to many changes in legal keeping requirements around the globe due to the ‘Brussels effect’, where European laws are embraced by other governments across the world.

Pigs in factory farming

we must stop factory farming!

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