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New York was recently ranked in a report as the nation's leader in the number of barn fires that cause animal deaths.

Last Thursday, just in time for National Fire Prevention Week this week, the Animal Welfare Institute released a report, the first of its kind, that broke down the 2.7 million animal deaths that occurred in potentially preventable barn fires between 2013 and 2017.

"AWI thought it was necessary ... nobody had really compiled this information before," said AWI's Farm Animal Policy Associate Alicia Prygoski who wrote the report

Prygoski said the organization compiled the report to help bring an awareness to where, when and why barn fires were happening. Then, AWI also offered some recommendations to help lower the prevalence.

"Ideally, it's all about prevention," she said, adding that once a fire starts, "it's too late."

The report found, by analyzing media reports, there were 326 barn fires that killed animals in the U.S. during the five-year time frame. Thirty-one of those fires, nearly 10 percent, took place in New York. On a national level, chickens represent about 95 percent animal deaths, but Prygoski said cows, pigs, and sheep made up the majority of the fatalities in New York.

Only about a dozen states had more than seven fires with animal fatalities over the time period analyzed and New York was the leader in the upper Midwest and Northeast regions — the regions where fires were most common.

Prygoski noted the number of fires and animal deaths in the data are also likely low as not all fires may have received media coverage, or even in the case of media coverage the number of animal deaths may not have been disclosed.

The Aurora Ridge Dairy Farm's fire in Ledyard this spring, for example, didn't report the number of animal deaths after a devastating, accidental fire destroyed a calf barn that housed 300 calves.

Farm co-owner Dave Harvatine told The Citizen at the time that about 110 calves were in the portion of the building that burned down, but he was reluctant to give a number of fatalities, only commenting that the farm "lost some, but saved a lot ... we lost more than we wanted to."

Prygoski said any farm, no matter the size, can implement some type of fire protection. The report included suggestions for farms including installing sprinkler systems, smoke alarms, fire extinguishers and doing employee training and fire drills. The report also included suggestions for larger entities, such as governments and insurance companies, to enforce.

"The answers (the AWI) put forward are not realistic," said Melinda Pitman, a volunteer firefighter with the Poplar Ridge Fire Department, who began volunteering the day after the Aurora Ridge Dairy Farm fire.

Pitman thought sprinkler systems would be too costly for family farms and, along with smoke, heat, and carbon monoxide detectors, keeping them clean enough to function in a barn wouldn't be feasible.

"Additional inspections by local fire departments would add an unnecessary burden to small, local, volunteer departments," she added, which are already hurting for volunteers.

Pitman said employee training and drills on farms were the most helpful suggestions. She added that communicating with local farmers, like Poplar Ridge does, and being aware of water sources and hazards on the farm would also be a helpful measure for local fire departments.

AWI empathizes with smaller farms and farmers who's livelihoods are affected by fires, Prygoski said, but she added that fire protection in barns for animals is also better for farmers' safety and preventing devastation, too.

"It's a problem we're hoping to curb a little bit," she said.

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Staff writer Megan Ehrhart can be reached at (315) 282-2244 or Follow her on Twitter @MeganEhrhart.


Towns Reporter