Hay bale fires still a threat - check stacks, barns for heated bales

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By Rick Greenwell

Recent reports of hay bale fires should remind growers to continue to monitor stacks and storage barns.

Generally, hay fires occur within six weeks after baling, but have been known to occur even after a year. They begin through a process called “spontaneous combustion, which depends on the initial moisture content of the hay, the ease with which moisture can dissipate from the bales and environmental conditions.”

Hay fires have increased as more growers have switched to large square bales.

One major challenge is that round bales are assembled in layers, like tightly compressed rolls of paper. Because the hay is tightly compressed, a round bale doesn’t burn intensely or quickly.

It is a smoldering fire that burns up into the bale. The bale has to be taken apart to get to the fire so it can be put out. And all of it has to be put out or it will flare up again.

Where bales are located and on what terrain determine how bale fires will be extinguished. If a burning bale is in a hayfield, the most effective approach is to tear the bale apart with your tractor. 

If the terrain is flat, just push the bale along and unroll it. Since you are going to spray water all over and into the bale, it is a total loss anyway.

Grass, compressed in round bales, forms a distinct, tough grain pattern almost like wood grain. When you are trying to get into the bale to find the smoldering area, you have to work across the grain, and that’s hard work.  (SOURCE: eHay Weekly, Oct. 1, 2013)