Farmers urged to monitor haystacks for fire risk

The CFA has issued a warning after a surge in hay fires. Photo by Keith Pakenham

The Victorian Country Fire Authority is urging farmers to ramp up their hay maintenance for the remainder of the season, following a surge in haystack fires, with CFA responding to more than 50 since November.

As a result, the CFA wants farmers to monitor the moisture and temperature of their hay more regularly, and to store it in separate stacks and in sheds away from farming equipment and structures.

CFA District 17 Commander Lindsay Barry said spontaneous combustion is the leading cause of haystack fires in Victoria and just one damp bale is enough to ignite a whole stack.

“We are currently in the storage phase of hay season, and there are some contributing factors that lead to ignition,” Mr Barry said.

“Unfortunately, at the beginning of the season, some bales weren’t produced to industry standard, and were stored away with too much moisture.

“Green or damp hay is susceptible to overheating, so those two in combination will make a fire.”

Mr Barry said due to the significant rain during summer, haystacks that were neither placed inside a shed nor covered with a tarp have been considerably exposed.

“The hay has been pressed for so long, and because of the summer we’ve had, the majority of fires are where hay has been stored outside and exposed to the elements.

“Water and hay don’t really mix, especially when they stack together. This creates organic decomposition which produces heat, and you end up with a hay fire due to spontaneous ignition.”

Having experienced something similar this time three years ago, Mr Barry recalls farms received more than 100mm of rain in one storm hitting their haystacks, and a trail of fires as a result.

“For farmers who own hay, or who manage haystacks, we need them to be more vigilant and ensure they’re doing regular temperature checks.

“If they are warm, put measures in place to break down and separate the stacks and use machinery to put in strategic breaks if you can.

“Because of recent weather, we can only implement maintenance and management now.”

More information on how to prevent haystack fires can be found on CFA’s website at: