Fire Safety: Silo Fires

In terms of accidents regarding fire safety, one of the surprisingly common settings of fire breakout are silos. What are silos? Silos are large structures that are usually used as storage and handling facilities for a variety of animal feed such as hay or grain. This may include corn or similar types of food for livestock. Silos are commonly thought of as being attached or located in farm type locations.

Two Silo Types


silo (Photo credit: Krebs’ Class)

There are two basic types of vertically oriented silos:  conventional silos or sealed silos. Conventional silos, the more common of the two, are the more popular choice because of ease of use. These usually have a round domed top and some sort of enclosed chute at the side used for unloading or dispensing from the silo. Sometimes these silos are attached to a barn.

The second type of upright silo is the oxygen limiting silo. As the name suggests, this type of silo is designed and constructed to prevent and limit oxygen from entering and affecting the contents. These silos are often made of fiberglass, concrete, or steel, with the intention of making them airtight. These do not have the typical unloading doors constructed into the structure. Instead, these have hatches or finely sealed openings that use highly efficient gaskets to keep as much oxygen from entering the chamber.

Fire Safety Hazard

In oxygen limiting silos, one of the causes of fire is spontaneous heating. This occurs when the tightly packed contents self generate heat which can then increase the likelihood of ignition. With this situation, there is considerable heat and the contents act as the fuel. This means that the only thing lacking for a fire to start is oxygen. Even with a small amount of oxygen, combustible gases can build up due to small smolders – making the risk of fire relatively high.

Unfortunately, even firefighters responding can make the fire worse by oxygenating the interior through opening of hatches. For high pressure water hoses that include spray and stream. Even more oxygen enters the chamber – giving the fire more fuel.

To Prevent is To Stop

To cut down on the incidence of these types of fire, a higher awareness of fire safety precautions should be observed. It should be noted, however, that conventional fire safety measures are ineffective. Very specific fire safety measures are called for. Owners and operators of these silos should be taught and regularly informed regarding proper handling, maintenance, and operation.

Oxygen limiting silos should always be kept closed when not filling or getting drawn from. This cuts down on the internal oxygen of the structure. Moisture content of the interior and of the contents should regularly and consistently be monitored to avoid even small smolders from developing.

Water, which has oxygen, should not be allowed to enter the silo. In the presence of steam or smoke that indicates a smolder, refrain from closing any open top hatches to avoid build-up of internal pressure. This may cause an explosion. In instances of internal fires or smolders, the best strategy is to carefully cut off sources of oxygen for the fire to burn itself out. By using these methods, fire safety in silos can properly be maintained.

Suppression systems are not only important in silos but also some where closer to home in places like your kitchen, stay safe by checking out suppression systems for kitchens.


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