Hay fires -- causes & prevention
Hay fires can cost farmers thousands of dollars in terms of building replacement, feed replacement and lost revenue. Proper storage practices can reduce hay fires significantly.
· What causes hay fires?
The most common cause is excessive moisture. Forage crops are always contaminated with countless microorganisms. After baling, a small supply of air and a favorable moisture level cause the microorganisms to begin to feed and multiply, generating heat in the process.
There are, of course, causes of hay fires other than spontaneous ignition. Some of these causes are lightning striking nearby trees or fences, arson, contact with electric fences and sparks from cigarettes, welding or nearby fires.
· Preventing hay fires
Ideal hay curing weather has less than 50 percent relative humidity and some wind. Be aware that the moisture content of hay will increase overnight when the air is humid, especially if there is dew or fog. New hay should be checked frequently for possible heating. If the temperature reaches 130°F, move the hay to allow increased air circulation and cooling.
· Proper hay storage
Hay which is to be stored uncovered outdoors should be formed into the tightest packages possible to resist penetration by rain. Place bales where air can circulate freely. Protect them from ground moisture and runoff by placing them on a bed of gravel, old tires, poles or pallets.
If storing hay inside, be sure the barn roof and any plumbing do not leak. Likewise, provide adequate drainage so water will not enter the barn during storms. Wetting from a leak can allow bacterial activity to increase and result in a fire.