Homestead Fire Prevention: Protecting Your Home, Crops, and Livestock

Reader Contribution by Ryan Tollefsen and Unity Home Group
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Your homestead should be a place of safety, security and happiness. Your homestead should be a safe space to live with your loved ones, where you can raise your own food and support your family. However, in the event of a fire, your homestead could become a threat to you and your family. Luckily, there are many things you can do to prevent this from happening. Taking action now could help you protect your home in the future. Should a fire occur, knowing what to do and having a plan in place can help minimize damage and save lives.

Protecting Crops and Farmland

Crops and farmland should be adequately watered. If your crops are properly hydrated throughout the growing season, they should be less susceptible to damage from a major fire. There are other things you can do to ensure your property is unlikely to be damaged. For example:

Protect Your Irrigation Sources. Keep your well, pump and other irrigation sources away from combustible materials. Ensure that your water sources can reach all corners of your homestead, from wooded areas to crop land and so on.

Remove Excess Growth. Grass and weeds can become dry in the summer months, and can easily spread a fire if one should break out on your property. Removing excess plant growth can slow the spread of fire and may enable you to save your homestead if a disaster should strike. Cut down grass and weeds and fill in empty spaces with rock mulch or sand.

Keep Combustible Materials Away from Hot Vehicles. Materials like straw and hay can be highly combustible. If a hot tractor should be driven near or parked near a stack of hay or another combustible material, it could lead to a fire. Be aware of what’s around you when driving a tractor, and keep tractors away from flammable debris.

Keep Farm Land Clear of Clutter. Put away farm equipment and other types of clutter left on your lawn, in your fields and in pathways throughout your property. This makes it easier for emergency responders to reach parts of your homestead, and could slow the progression of a fire if one should break out.

Protecting Livestock

Livestock is often kept in buildings like barns, and those buildings need to be just as fire safe as other buildings on the property. Use a licensed builder to construct your barn, if building it from scratch, and follow all building codes. Get all the necessary permits to ensure that your building is constructed legally.

In some cases, fire-safe features may not be required by code, but could still protect your property in the event of a fire. Work with your builder to install features such as:

  • Fire wall between stables and storage areas
  • Frame made from flame retardant materials
  • Installation of fire doors
  • Installation of smoke detectors
  • Installation of battery-powered emergency lighting for evacuation purposes
  • Use of fire retardant paint

Install smoke detectors in your barn, just like you would install smoke detectors in your home. A sprinkler system and fire alarm could also protect your livestock and could help you get out safely in the event of a fire. Keep a fire extinguisher on the property, and check the expiration date of the fire extinguisher periodically to ensure that your fire extinguisher doesn’t need to be replaced.

Ensure that everyone in your household knows how to use the fire extinguisher. Show them periodic instructional videos online and discuss with your family members what you would do to put out a fire.

Helpful Habits & Precautions

Consider getting fire insurance for your buildings, equipment and your livestock. Talk to your insurance agent to ensure that the level of insurance you choose is appropriate for the value of your property. When choosing insurance, always weigh the risk of the possibility that there really will be a fire where you live. If you’re on a property in a dry area, surrounded by woodland or in an area where wildfires are a common threat, you may want higher levels of coverage than if you lived in an area where the risk of a fire is low.

Create a fire evacuation plan for all parts of your property. You should know the most efficient way to exit your home, exit your barn and get off your property in general, in the event of a fire. Talk to each family member about your evacuation plan and practice multiple times per year, to ensure that everyone is clear on their role.

If your home has more than one level purchase portable ladders or something else to help you and other members of your family get down from windows in the upper floors. Establish a meeting location on your property where everyone can meet in the event of a fire. Talk about your meeting place regularly, to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Place fire extinguishers in your home, in your vehicles and in outbuildings on your property. Check all fire extinguishers quarterly to ensure they’re still charged.

Handling Fire Safely

It’s common for people to light fires on their homestead. Sometimes fires are lit outside in fire pits or campfires, other times they’re lit inside, in wood burning stoves and in fire places. These general rules apply:

  • Keep all combustible materials away from the burn radius.
  • Have fireplaces and stoves checked regularly by a chimney professional to ensure they’re safe to use.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher nearby whenever burning a fire.
  • Never leave a fire burning unattended.
  • Always put out outdoor fires before leaving the burn site.
  • Allow fires indoors to burn out on their own, but separate the logs if you want to accelerate the process.

Go over these rules with other members of your family to ensure that everyone knows how to stay safe in the event of a fire.

Protecting Your Home

Fire protection at home is very similar to fire protection on other parts of the homestead. For example, check your smoke detector batteries every quarter, and replace the batteries every six months.

Place smoke detectors on all levels of your home and in every bedroom, every hallway, and in common areas like the living room and dining room. Watch for signs of electrical problems, like flickering lights, dimming lights and strange noises coming from electrical outlets. If you suspect that your home does have an electrical problem, have a qualified electrician take a look.

Following these procedures, you can protect your home and your homestead, which is your biggest investment. Maintaining these general guidelines could save you thousands of dollars in fire damage, and could even save the lives of the people in your home.

Ryan Tollefsen is the founder and team leader of Unity Home Group. As an avid supporter of sustainable living, he aims to help homesteaders navigate some of the lesser-known challenges of finding the right place to build roots for their homestead in his guide to assessing off-grid land. Read all of Ryan’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


Author and researcher Linda Masterson knows what it’s like to flee a wall of flames in the middle of night, with just minutes to escape with her life and very little else. Her home in northern Colorado burned to the ground in the Crystal Fire in 2011. Now she’s sifted through information, resources and expert advice from across the country to put together a practical handbook and personal pocket guide for homeowners who want to be better prepared if disaster strikes.

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