Read the current Progressive Forage digital edition
advertisement

Beware of hot hay causing barn fire

Davis Hill Published on 16 September 2009

This year’s unusually wet spring and early summer has led many farmers in some areas to store hay that’s wetter than normal, increasing the danger of barn fires.

Often, farmers have reported that they know the hay they are baling is wetter than they’d like, but with additional rain forecast, they are taking a chance, hoping to save a better quality product versus letting the rain cause the crop to deteriorate in the field.

Consequently there has been an increase in barn fires, at least some of which were caused by hot hay igniting through spontaneous combustion.

Most farmers strive to bale hay that is field-dried to 20 percent or less in moisture. At this moisture content, the baled hay can cure properly and maintain quality.

Some farmers are reporting having to bale their hay at 25 percent moisture. With moisture content that high, hay under storage conditions will generate more heat than can safely be dissipated into the atmosphere.

As temperatures rise, dangers of spontaneous combustion increase. Farmers need to be diligent in checking their hay, especially if they know they baled hay that was wetter than normal. Smoldering hay gives off a strong, pungent odor.

This odor is an indication that a fire is occurring. If even the slightest smell is present, farmers should attempt to take temperature readings of the stack.

Reaching inside a haystack will give a cursory clue. If it feels warm or hot to the touch, that’s a good indication that problems may exist.

Taking temperature readings of the stack is most important and is the only real way of determining how bad the potential fire problem is before flames ignite.

Infrared thermometers and digital thermometers are accurate, and local fire companies may be willing to come out with thermal imaging cameras to evaluate a situation.

Most would prefer to come out prior to an actual fire event, as a way to help avoid a catastrophic fire. A number of fire companies and silo-fire experts also have probes available that producers can borrow to help them monitor a stack of hay.

Research and experience suggest that farmers and firefighters should be aware of several critical temperatures and action steps involving heated hay. These are:

  • Temperature 125°F – No action

  • Temperature 150°F – Entering the danger zone.

  • Temperatures should be checked twice daily. If possible, stacked hay should be disassembled to allow more air to move around heated bales for cooling.

  • Temperature 160°F – Reaching the danger zone.

  • Temperature should be checked every two hours. If possible, stacked hay should be disassembled to allow more air to move around heated bales for cooling.

  • Temperature 175°F – Hot spots or fire pockets are likely.

  • If possible, stop all air movement around hay. Alert fire service of a possible hay fire incident.
  • Temperature 190°F – Remove hot hay.

  • This should be done with the assistance of the fire service. The fire service should be prepared for hay to burst into flames as it contacts fresh air.

  • Temperature 200°F or higher – Remove hot hay.

  • A fire is almost certain to develop. This should be done with the assistance of the fire service. The fire service should be prepared for hay to burst into flames as it contacts fresh air.

Keeping a watchful eye on heating hay can save your barn or storage building. Checking the temperature of suspected or hot hay can help you make critical decisions.

If you see the temperature rising toward the 150ºF range, you might consider moving the hay to a remote location, away from any buildings or combustible material.

If a hay fire is to happen, it’s better to have it away from your main hay storage or barn. Use caution when moving heated bales, because they can burst into flames when they are exposed to fresh air.

Wetting hot bales down before moving them can help control this hazard.  FG

—Excerpts from Penn State Field Crop News, Vol. 9, No. 17

Dave Hill
Ag Emergencies Program Director
Penn State
724-601-8268

LATEST BLOG

LATEST NEWS