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Hay Fires

Beware of hay fires...

Wet hay favors the growth of organisms which generate heat and can increase hay temperatures up to  150 degrees F.  Once hay heats beyond this point, chemical reactions take over and can increase temperatures to the point of spontaneous combustion.  With "wet" hay packed tightly in bales and stacked together in large quantities, fires are very possible.  Whether hay which is in this situation actually starts to burn or not depends mostly on the size of the stack and the material surrounding it.

If hay is stacked loose and sufficient cooling occurs at the same rate as the heat is generated, the hay may simply caramelize and turn brown or simply mold.  However, if there is enough hay on the outside part of the hot spots to prevent the escape of heat, and the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and moisture levels are right, a fire will eventually occur due to spontaneous combustion.

If you suspect that your hay may be heating up, the temperature can be measured and monitored by using the following process:

Drive a pointed 2" pipe into a hay bale and lower a thermometer on a string down into the pipe.  Wait 10-15 minutes for the temperature to stabilize, then pull it out and read the temperature.  Repeat this in several bales.  If a thermometer is not readily available, drive a solid metal rod or pipe into the center of the bale and after 15-20 minutes withdraw the rod.  If it is too hot to hold in your hand, the situation is critical.  The temperature should be determined and appropriate action taken.

Actions to take...

If temperatures are below 140 degrees F there is not any danger, unless it is early in the process.  

When the temperature is between 140-160 degrees F, check bales daily 

If temperatures rise above 160 degrees F, check every 2-3 hours and prepare to move the hay from the building and spread out so that air can get around the bales.

If the temperature reaches 180 degrees F, notify the fire department, insurance company (if the building is insured) and remove all equipment and/on animals from the area.  With fire equipment on hand (not just an extinguisher), remove bales to the outside and do not stack.  Place in rows for easy access.  During removal, be alert for burned out cavities.  Also, hay under these conditions may flame up as fresh air strikes it or smolder in a pile for weeks.

If bales ignite, soak with water and force some water in the center of the bales.

If the bales do not ignite, try to save the hay by allowing the bales to simply cool down.

Continue to monitor the internal temperature of the bales.  The hay may be put back in the building after the temperatures drop below 100 degrees F.

 

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