Conditions ripe for fires

January 02, 2018

Reactions between moisture and nutrients breaking down in hay bales have been blamed for recent fires.

There’s been a string of haystack fires in rural Victoria but it seems only weather and a scientific reaction are to blame.

A stack of about 2100 hay bales erupted in flames on Wednesday near Pyramid Hill in the state’s north.

Burning haystacks have also been reported at Avoca, Barraport, Charlton and Kerang in recent weeks.

The fires came shortly after the new season’s baling, and Country Fire Authority operations manager John Cutting said they were likely non-suspicious.

‘‘They’re starting by spontaneous combustion — in the middle of a paddock,’’ he said.

Recent rainfalls have wet uncovered bales and when this moisture comes into contact with nutrients breaking down under the hot sun, a reaction can occur.

‘‘The moisture reacts with the hay breaking down and creates heat,’’ Mr Cutting said.

And if bales get hot enough, they can ignite.

Burning bales are usually left to run their course because adding water prolongs the smouldering.

‘‘Most of the time we’ll let them burn in a controlled manner — it’s an easier way to remove the problem,’’ Mr Cutting said.

Farmers had left hay bales uncovered because the weather had been dry before recent rains, he said.

He urged property owners to check bales using heat-detecting tools, or with a more rustic but still effective method.

A crowbar can be stuck into a bale, and if the bale is hot inside the heat will travel along the bar by conduction.

‘‘If the bale is hot in the middle, you’ll actually feel the heat on the bar outside the bale,’’ Mr Cutting said.

Mr Cutting said the haystack fires could continue for another six weeks.

About 400 haystack fires erupted in Victoria and southern NSW in 2002 under similar conditions.

Hundreds of bales of hay burned at a Strathmerton property on Friday, December 22, in what appeared to be an incident of spontaneous combustion.

Five brigades attended the blaze, which started about 11.30pm.

Neighbours alerted the landowner, who was not at the property at the time, to the fire.

The fire was under control in the early hours of the next day.

District 22 officer Peter Bell said it took a couple of days, with the help of the property owner and his excavator, to completely extinguish the fire.

‘‘If you can imagine a round bale on fire, times 300, in between two sheds, that was how serious the situation was,’’ Mr Bell said.

‘‘We determined that the cause of the fire was due to spontaneous combustion and weather conditions due to rain and moisture in the bales.’’

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