Prevent Hay Fires

Given the cost/value of hay, the crazy weather conditions this year and the incidence of a few local hay stack fires in the past couple of months, I thought this brief article from ehay weekly was worth re-posting.

Follow This Advice To Prevent Hay Fires

With this year’s wet conditions in many parts of the country, growers need to be vigilant for signs of hay overheating, which can lead to fire, says J.W. Schroeder, dairy specialist with North Dakota State University Extension. He recommends these steps to minimize the risk:

  • Check hay regularly. “If you detect a slight caramel odor or distinct musty smell, chances are your hay is heating,” says Schroeder. “At this point, checking the moisture is too late; you’ll need to keep monitoring the hay’s temperature.”
  • If you suspect hay is heating, insert a simple probe into the haystack to monitor the temperature. You can make a probe from a 10′ piece of pipe or electrical tubing. Sharpen one end of the pipe or screw a pointed dowel to one end, then drill several ¼”-diameter holes in the tube just above the dowel. Drive the probe into the haystack and lower a thermometer on a string into the probe. Probe several parts of the stack and leave the thermometer in place for 10 minutes at each site.
  • Before surveying the tops of stacks, place long planks on top of the hay – don’t walk on the hay mass. Always attach a safety line to yourself and have another person on the other end in a safe location to pull you out should the hay surface collapse into what likely is a fire pocket.
  • Use extreme caution when fighting a fire in hay that’s been treated with preservatives containing ethoxyquin and butylated hydroxytoluene. They can produce deadly hydrogen cyanide gas at about 240 degrees F (115 degrees C).

    If you suspect a fire could develop, spread bales in an area away from other feeds and buildings. Temperatures above 175 degrees in hay mean a fire is imminent. The smell or sight of smoke means a fire is burning somewhere in the hay. “In any of these cases, call the fire department immediately,” Schroeder advises. “Do not move any of the hay. This would expose the overheated or smoldering hay to oxygen and may result in a fire raging out of control.”

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About Engel

Ms. Engel is an OSU field faculty member in the department of Animal Sciences. She has a B.S (1997) and a M.S. (2007) in Animal Science from South Dakota State University. She is housed at the OSU Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center in Klamath Falls, OR where she serves the extension and research needs of livestock and forage producers. Her research has focused on investigating opportunities to extend the grazing season and low input methods to increase pasture productivity.
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