Avoid costly haystack fires

By Rodney Woods

Following a difficult growing season and more failed crops than usual being cut for hay, the CFA is reminding landowners to take additional care when storing and monitoring hay this season.

Since mid-December, the CFA has responded to more than 30 haystack fires in Victoria’s north-east, costing local farmers thousands of dollars worth of losses.

‘‘Correct storage is important along with monitoring stacks for heat in terms of preventing hay fires,’’ CFA community safety manager Darren Viney said.

‘‘We are seeing many more haystack fires than usual this season and fires are expected to continue right through January.’’

Spontaneous combustion, which is one of the major causes of haystack fires, is caused by bacteria that grows within green or damp hay and produces a chemical reaction that causes the hay bale to heat.

‘‘When it comes to storage there are a number of things you can do,’’ Mr Viney said.

‘‘Protect your haystacks from water leaks, rain and moisture, but also pay attention to airflow by not stacking bales right to the top of the shed.’’

Mr Viney also advised farmers to store hay in separate stacks and keep them smaller rather than larger in size.

‘‘That way you’ll avoid large losses if a fire does occur,’’ he said.

‘‘By the same token you should avoid storing vehicles, machinery and valuable equipment in your shed along with the hay bales,’’ Mr Viney said.

‘‘And of course continuous monitoring for heat is a good habit to get into, especially in event of a thunderstorm or rain showers.’’

Mr Viney said the best approach to monitoring heat was to use multiple tools.

‘‘My advice would be to use a range of ways to detect heat rather than just a probe,’’ he said.

‘‘Using a probe can be a bit hit-and-miss — look out for other signs such as steam rising from the stack, mould or unusual odour or slumping of the bales.

‘‘And remember it only takes one bale in a stack to heat up and burn and you could lose the lot.’’