Hay Fires: Prevention is the Key

By Emma Greenwood

It is that time of year again: when Summer is winding down, and harvesting picks up. Because the weather is unpredictable, there is an increased risk of hay fires.

Causes of Hay Fires:

Most hay fires happen within the first six weeks of baling. It’s a danger with both small and large hay bales, as well as with loose and stacked hay. The main cause of hay fires is excessive moisture. Surprising right?

As ironic as that may sound, the storms leading into harvesting season can make for excessively wet conditions. When this oversaturation occurs, there is little time for hay time to dry, and that makes it very tricky for farmers to know when to harvest safely. The reason wet hay is a concern is that it causes a chemical reaction that builds heat.  If the hay gets too hot, flammable gas ignites and starts a fire.

Other causes of hay fires are attributed to the volume of mow, bale stack, bale density and ventilation airflow surrounding stacked hay bales. Best practices for fire prevention safety dictate low-density bales should be stacked low, contain good airflow and be well ventilated. This practice will lower the risk of overheating.

Minimizing Hay Fire Risks

Because moisture creates hay fires, there are proven ways to decrease the risk of fire. The goal is to maintain the moisture level of the hay bales at 20 percent or less. How is this accomplished?  A farmer regularly checks for a musty or caramel smell, which can be an indicator that the hay is overheating. If that is the case, a probe is used to check the hay’s temperature. If the hay is at a temperature of one hundred and fifty degrees or more, it is a cause for concern and action is needed.

Farmers watch the weather for many reasons, and hay fires are one of them; it plays a vital role in maintaining the correct moisture level in the hay. Ideal weather for haymaking has minimal wind and low humidity.

There is also specialized equipment on the market for increasing drying rates, which include tedders, windrow inverters, hay rakes and conditioning equipment. You can also practice prevention by using hay preservatives, which will reduce the growth of bacteria in the hay with high moisture content.

Hay Storage Tips

The ideal place to store hay is in a separate “hay storage building.” This way if the hay catches fire, the livestock and the barn aren’t likely to catch on fire with it. If a hay storage building is not an option, the second-best option would be upper-level storage in a barn, because heat rises and this will give livestock more time to flee. A third choice is storing hay at stall-level, but making sure the hay is in a completely separate room from the livestock. However, if hay is kept outside, it requires enough space for ventilation to be safe.

What to do if there is a Hay Fire

When a hay fire happens, the first thing you should do is call the fire department. According to the National Ag Safety Database, the proper way of controlling a hay fire has three steps:

Step one – Knock down any visible flames using a straight tip nozzle as this will have deeper penetration.

Step two – Probe for hot spots and inject water through the probe to cool the material and raise it to a moisture content that will prevent burning.

Step three – Remove the hay to a safe location.

Fire Insurance

Another key safety measure is to make sure that all appropriate insurance coverages are in place, as hay fires can spread, causing property damage and harm to your livestock as well.

“It’s a good idea to separate your haystacks outside by 100 feet to prevent potentially losing all of your hay at that location,” says Agent, Ashley Krueger. “Keep in mind how close you are parking your equipment to the hay whether inside or outside. Sometimes, fires still happen even though all the proper precautions are taken.”

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