CFA issues haystack fire warning

By Liz Mellino

Farmers are being warned to exercise extreme caution when cutting, baling and storing hay.

With dry conditions being felt across northern Victoria, the Country Fire Authority has issued a warning for potential haystack fires.

District 22 operations officer Pete Dedman confirmed the CFA had responded to a significant number of hay fires this year so far.

“For our farmers these can be a significant loss for them, not only in dollar value but in feed for the stock — especially when we're in a very dry period,” he said.

“It's one of those ones where it is a vicious circle, but we need to be aware and take all the precautions.”

Mr Dedman said there were a number of things farmers could do to lower their chances of haystack fires.

Making sure the surrounding areas are safe, monitoring the heat of each haystack and stacking hay in smaller bundles were some of the measures Mr Dedman suggested farmers adopt.

Despite these precautions, he said haystack fires could start on their own due to spontaneous combustion.

“Spontaneous combustion occurs when you get a reaction that generates heat and is caused by moisture and the sugars within the hay.”

He said this could occur when hay was either not properly cured before baling, or not stored to protect it from rain or damp conditions, which meant moisture content in the bales was higher than the recommended level.

If the bales were then stored in environments with high temperatures and little airflow, a chemical reaction could be triggered leading to fire.

Mr Dedman warned haystack fires could pose a great danger to farmers and their properties if they spread, along with occupying firefighting resources during potentially extreme fire seasons.

“(CFA) will make sure the surrounding area is safe, and providing we’re not expecting significant hot weather and wind we allow (the haystacks) to burn out — being monitored by the land owner — so that we're not putting thousands of litres on water it,” he said.

“It becomes a decision made how much water do you use to put them out; if we can put a break in it and make it safe, we can keep monitoring and let nature take its course.”