From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Fire in a Pile of Hay Bales

Spontaneous combustion of hay


Our neighbor had some bad luck last week with a large stack of big round bales. Apparently the hay was not dry enough when he baled and stacked it. A few days later, the stack of bales ignited.

Our volunteer fire department responded and sprayed the bales with water. The farmer pulled the bale pile apart with a tractor to allow the bales to cool. The smoke from the fire could be smelled for a mile or more, and the bales smoldered for several days.

Hay fires like this are all too common, and they are usually caused by baling and/or storing hay before it is fully cured (dried). The hay can also self-heat and combust if it becomes wet in storage.

The problem is that bacteria and mold grow on wet hay, causing it to ferment and producing flammable gases and heat. Also, as the hay dries, it goes through a natural chemical process called "sweating" in which it releases moisture and heat.

In a stack or pile of hay, the heat from fermenting and sweating cannot escape. The internal temperature can increase to the point that the hay will blacken, smolder, or even burst into flames.

The hay is spoiled even if it just warms up and turns a little brown. It loses most of its nutrients, and of course, livestock prefer not to to eat it.

This sort of combustion can occur in a hay pile of any size. Some of us have seen this in small scale with green lawn clippings or a compost pile.

This farmer lost a lot of hay, but at least he didn't lose a barn. I remember a barn fire that was caused by wet hay bales when I was a child. I was with my mother when she noticed smoke coming from a neighbor's barn and alerted him. The men from nearby ranches gathered and fought the fire, but the barn burned down. (This was on the Ray Ranch at Rose, Nebraska, in the late 1950s or early 1960s when Jay and Martha Hixson were running it.)

Read more on the web:
Cooperative Extension System bulletin "Spontaneous Combustion in Hay Poses Danger"

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.