5 Greenhouse Fire Safety and Prevention Tips

After a fast-moving blaze destroyed greenhouses at Loudpack Farms July 23 in Greenfield, Calif., we turned to two facility design experts to learn more about preventative measures that all greenhouse growers can implement into a fire safety plan.

From proper facility design to regular maintenance, greenhouse growers have many factors to consider when it comes to fire prevention and safety. Here, CEA Consultancy’s Rob Eddy and Dr. Greenhouse’s  Nadia Sabeh offer advice on how to prevent a potential disaster.

Note that the Loudpack Farms fire investigation is ongoing (as of July 24), and that none of these tips are necessarily associated with that blaze.

1. Identify and routinely check the problem areas.

Eddy, consultant and facilities manager at CEA Consultancy, said that the keys to fire prevention and safety are baked into good facility design and maintenance. It’s a matter of continually checking likely sources of a potential fire. Keen observation is needed.

“You wouldn’t think a greenhouse would be very combustible, and it’s true,” Eddy said. “It’s mostly glass and metal; some of them are made of plastic, of course.” But he pointed to the acrylic glaze that adorns those glass walls in some greenhouses; that acrylic material is flammable.

And inside the walls, the shade curtains that are used to mitigate natural light during the day can also pose problems. “The shade fabric is flammable,” Eddy said. “You can buy them, you can pay a little extra and have them flame-retardant. That is a good idea, of course.”

 2. Don’t overload your circuits.

Electrical fires commonly start due to overloaded circuits, Sabeh, founder of Dr. Greenhouse, said. If a facility can accommodate an electrical load of 1,000 amps, she said, cultivators should plan to operate at 20-25 percent lower than the limit. This allows all the installed equipment to run, and also gives a little leeway for the circuits to handle an additional fan or dehumidifier on top of their normal load. This also allows for the occasional power surge when a piece of equipment, such as a shade motor, turns on.

“When you turn on a piece of equipment, it actually creates a surge of electricity because it needs more power to get it started than to actually just run,” Sabeh said.

“Another thing to avoid is daisy-chaining lights with multiple extension cords and power strips,” Eddy said. “That is another bad idea.”

3. Get rid of the clutter.

Keep things tidy. Clear out the detritus that can build up in storage areas and hallways: Old cardboard boxes are a common problem.

In addition, ensure that your aisles are wide enough to allow for easy movement around the canopy space, as well as to comply with any established regulations.

“Most growers, whether they’re growing cannabis or some other crop, it’s really in their best interest to follow these laws because it’s about the health and safety of their employees,” Sabeh said. “It’s not just about growing as much product as possible. So, providing those paths of egress is important for fire safety.”

4. Minimize the possibility of freak accidents.

Eddy also pointed to a few freak accidents he’s encountered during his career: both involving metal-halide lamps that exploded and sent “white-hot glass flying through the warehouse.”

“If you leave your lamps in your fixtures too long—they’re just beyond their useful life—there’s more of a chance that they might explode,” Eddy said. “It’s very rare. There has to be a small defect in the glass of the lamp for that to happen, but I’ve been at two places where it has, and it’s pretty scary.”

The key: “Keep track of the hours you use them and change them out appropriately,” Eddy said.

In addition, greenhouse growers should be wary of spontaneous combustion, Sabeh added. Fertilizers and other chemicals stored in the heat of the greenhouse can burst into flames if the right conditions are met.

5. Consider a sprinkler system.

A sprinkler system is a worthwhile investment, Sabeh said. “You think about it, it’s an insurance policy.”

A system may cost an extra $50,000 to install, but if the alternative is a cultivator losing his or her entire crop and facility in a fire, the cost is worth it, she said. Some municipalities mandate a functioning sprinkler system on-site; be sure to check your local ordinances.

And the facility should be designed in a way that allows the sprinklers to do their job, Eddy added. Instead of solid shelving,  install wire shelving so sprinklers  can penetrate lower shelves.

“And, of course,” Eddy said, “no smoking. All those common-sense things.”

Top photo courtesy of Adobe Stock

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