The Dangers of Haystack Fires
By Ann Mesman, Cargill Safety Champion
This is the first spring I can remember in years that California has gotten over an inch of rain in the middle of May. Most years, the winter forages are being cut and are in the fields waiting to either get baled or picked up to chop. May of this year brought over two inches of rain to the San Joaquin Valley in the matter of days, and with it a growing concern of haystack fires. We had one local farmer who brought in a few truck loads of alfalfa from out of state, covered the hay with huge tarps to keep the extra moisture out, and still ended up with a massive fire. I know we have fires like this every year, but farmers are even more vigilant now than ever.
Haystacks, bales, and even loose hay that are high moisture run the risk of catching on fire. These fires are caused by chemical reactions that build heat, and if they get hot enough, can ignite. Small bales with a moisture content of 20% or higher, and big square or round bales with a moisture content of 16% or higher, are at danger for possible hay fires which usually occurs within six weeks of baling.
To avoid potential fires, it is also important to be aware of safe storing habits for your hay. If you are storing small square haybales inside of barns or buildings make sure it is weathertight and has proper drainage to prevent moisture from getting in, as well as good ventilation to allow excess moisture out. If hay was baled too wet, make sure to stack lower and do not pack tightly, allow for air movement. When storing bales outside you can minimize moisture by covering with plastic or a waterproof tarp, if you are not able to, allow space in between bales for air flow to promote drying. Placing bales on top of gravel with also help to decrease absorption of ground water.
Here are some other recommendations to minimize your risk:
• Check your hay regularly (caramelizing odor or musty smells usually indicate heating).
• Monitor the temperature of hay: especially if you suspect heating.
• Never walk on the hay mass without laying down planks and securing a safety line.
For more information on the dangers of haystack fires and ways to minimize your risk and control hay fires, check out this article written by North Dakota State University.