Ask FSA Andy: Preventing barn fires

Hello Again!

With the early spring and mild weather conditions we have experienced so far this crop year, most of you have had no trouble getting your crops planted timely and your hay made in good condition. This has been a real blessing, as most years, wet spring weather makes planting and hay making a challenging endeavor.

This past Sunday, we had a neighbor and fellow farmer lose a large, two-story barn to a fire. New, first cutting baled hay stored in the barn was made in good condition and all put through a baler with a moisture tester, but spontaneous combustion in the hay mow may have been the culprit.

With such a tragedy fresh in our minds, I wanted to remind you all to take time to go around to your barns this week and do an inspection. As temperatures rise, dangers of spontaneous combustion increase. Farmers need to be diligent in checking their stored hay, especially if they know they baled hay that was wetter than normal.

Smoldering hay gives off a strong, pungent odor. This odor is an indication that a fire is occurring. If even the slightest smell is present, farmers should attempt to take temperature readings of the stack. Reaching inside a hay mow or stack will give a cursory clue as warm or hot to the touch hay is a good indication that problems may exist.

But taking actual temperature readings of the mow is most important and the only real way of determining how bad the potential fire problem is before flames arrive. Infrared thermometers and digital thermometers are accurate, and your local fire company may be willing to come out with thermal imaging cameras to evaluate a situation.

Most fire departments would prefer to come out prior to an actual fire event as a way to help avoid a catastrophic fire. A number of fire departments have probes available that farmers can borrow to help them monitor a mow of hay.

Research and experience suggest that you should be aware of several critical temperature points:

Between 150 and 174 degrees Fahrenheit, a hay stack is entering the danger zone. Temperatures should be checked twice daily, and if possible the stack should be disassembled to allow more air to cool it.

At 175 degrees, hot spots and pockets of fire are likely. Stop all air movement around the hay and alert your fire department of a possible hay fire incident.

At 190 degrees, remove the hot hay with the assistance of your fire department, and be prepared for the hay to burst into flames as it contacts the air.

At 200 degrees or higher, a fire is almost certain to develop. Call your fire department for advice and assistance, and have the hay removed with the expectation the hay will burn as it contacts fresh air.

FSA Andy wants to remind you that keeping a watchful eye on heating hay can save your barn or storage building. Checking the temperature of your hay can help you make critical decisions. If you see the temperature rising toward the 150 degree mark, you might consider moving the hay to a remote location, away from any buildings or combustive material.

That’s all for now,

FSA Andy

About the Author

FSA Andy is written by USDA Farm Service Agency county executive directors in northeastern Ohio. More Stories by FSA Andy

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