Pesticide fires - prevention, control, and cleanup

Fires involving pesticides can be very dangerous. Burning pesticides may release poisonous fumes or contaminate the environment. Pressurized containers can explode. Pesticides can spill out of containers damaged by the fire. Runoff from fighting a fire can contaminate a larger area.

Reduce the potential for fires by following good practices.

Preventing fires

Store pesticides safely to reduce the risk of fires.

  • Keep pesticides away from windows and out of direct sunlight
  • Store pesticides according to legal requirements and safety guidelines, in a cool dry environment
  • Keep combustible materials away from heat sources (steam pipes, radiators, heaters, etc.)
  • Be aware of explosive or flammable risks for the pesticides used on your farm.
  • Read and follow pesticide label directions (for example, glyphosate can create an explosive hazard if it is in a galvanized steel or unlined steel, not stainless steel, container/sprayer)
  • Do not store pesticides near fire hazards such as ammonium nitrate or calcium hypochlorite
  • Do not allow smoking near flammable compounds or materials.
  • Do not allow smoking when handling pesticides or in the storage area.
  • Do not work with flames near flammable compounds and materials.

Being prepared for fires

  1. Develop a fire contingency or emergency response plan. The plan should explain:

  • How to prevent fires
  • Who to contact if there is a fire
  • What to do if there is a fire
  • Where the emergency equipment, access points/routes, and evacuation routes are on the farm
  • Where there is a potential for water runoff on the farm and how to prevent contamination of waterways. Include where to obtain equipment and supplies for constructing dikes or dams. Do not only rely solely on farm equipment as they may not be accessible due to the fire.
  • The location of critical or sensitive areas on the farm (i.e. pesticide storage, other hazardous compounds, wells and water supplies, water courses, drains, etc.)
  • How often the plan will be updated
  1. Store all pesticides in one designated storage room or cupboard.
  2. Identify the pesticide storage shed/cupboard by putting a sign stating Danger Chemical Storage Authorized Persons Only on all entrances. The sign needs to be big enough to read from a distance.
  3. Post emergency numbers by each phone and at the storage shed. Write the numbers large enough so they are easy to read. Include phone numbers for: Fire (911), Poison Control Centre, the farm owner or supervisor, and the Emergency Management BC
  4. List all the pesticides in storage, their names, active ingredient, registration numbers, and quantity remaining. Keep a copy of the list with the fire contingency plan and near the pesticide storage area. Give the local fire department a copy. Update the list each year.
  5. Ask your pesticide dealer for copies of the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for the pesticides on the farm. Keep these in a convenient location.
  6. Show family members and employees the location of the contingency plan, MSDS sheets, emergency numbers, pesticide list, and emergency equipment.
  7. Tell farm workers and family members what to do in an emergency. Have regular fire drills.
  8. Tell the local fire department that pesticides are stored on the farm and the location of the storage area.
  9. Keep a fire extinguisher approved for chemical fires near the storage area.
  10. Provide clear access for emergency vehicles to farm buildings.
  11. Keep a spill kit near the pesticide storage area. 
  12. Regularly review emergency procedures for poisoning, spills and fires.

Dealing with fires involving pesticides

  1. Call the fire department. Tell them that there is a fire involving pesticides. Provide information about the pesticides. It helps with fire fighting and the protection of firefighters. Tell the fire department if people are involved.
  2. Do not take unnecessary risks. 
  3. Keep people and animals away from the fire.
  4. Do not attempt to fight the fire unless you have been trained and have the correct personal protective equipment.
  5. Avoid being downwind of the fire.
  6. Follow the instructions of the firefighters.
  7. Attempt to contain the fire and protect the surroundings. Prevent the spread of the fire by cooling nearby containers to prevent rupture.
  8. Avoid using large quantities of water to keep toxic run-off to a minimum. Construct dikes to prevent flow into lakes, streams, sewers, irrigation water, and other water bodies.
  9. Wash before eating, drinking, smoking or using the toilet.
  10. If anyone is exposed to smoke and fumes, exposed body areas should be washed as soon as possible at the fire site.
  11. If fire fighters or bystanders have symptoms of pesticide poisoning, call the Poison Control Centre immediately.
  12. Once the fire is out, contact the nearest office of the Ministry of Environment for information on decontamination procedures.
  13. Contact the Emergency Management BC if contaminated water from fire fighting enters a drainage system.

Cleaning up after a fire

Personal precautions

  1. Remove protective clothing upon leaving site and place them in a plastic bag. Wear waterproof gloves when handling contaminated clothing. Throw out heavily contaminated clothing. Clean less contaminated clothing the same way pesticide application clothing is cleaned.
  2. Shower and shampoo thoroughly with soap and water.
  3. Wash inner clothing with detergent and put on clean clothes.
  4. Watch for signs and symptoms of pesticide poisoning.

Fire site

  1. The fire scene should be secured to keep out unauthorized personnel until cleanup and decontamination have been completed. Post warning signs and rope off burned-out area and water run-off area.
  2. Contact the Ministry of Environment for advice on cleaning up after the fire. Follow their instructions.
  3. Wear protective clothing when working in or cleaning up a contaminated area.
  4. Handle pesticide containers carefully to prevent spillage of the contents. Containers may have been damaged during the fire. If you have any concerns, contact a qualified person or agency for assistance. The manufacturer, Ministry of Environment, Emergency Management BC, or Pest Management Regulatory Agency may be able to provide information.
  5. Concentrated pesticides that are spilled during the post-fire cleanup can be cleaned up according to the instructions at Pesticide Spills.
  6. When the cleanup of the fire site is completed, decontaminate the equipment.