As regional Victoria begins to experience spring growth of pastures and crops, CFA has issued a warning to farmers to exercise caution with the cutting, baling and storage of hay.
CFA Acting Chief Officer Garry Cook said CFA crews responded to 86 haystack fires across the state last year.
“Rainfall deficiencies are starting to emerge across parts of the Mallee, Wimmera and Far South West, which is a concern for CFA,” A/CO Cook said.
“However, above average spring rainfall has been predicted for many regions across the state, which should result in greater yield and hopefully a successful hay season for many.
“We are urging all Victorians farmers to take care of their hay and crops this bushfire season.
“Fodder conservation and storage is a vital and valuable component of the year-round farming operations.
“It is important for farmers to ensure haystacks are prepared well and bales are able to be stored safely.”
He emphasised that haystacks pose a fire danger which could occupy crucial firefighting resources during Victoria’s bushfire season.
“When a haystack ignites, depending on the size of the stack, it can remain burning and smoulder over a long period and CFA crews are often required to monitor it for several days to make sure it doesn’t spread,” A/CO Cook said.
“Haystack fires can start quite easily from lightning strikes, sparks from equipment and machinery, but a major source of ignition is spontaneous combustion of the haybales themselves.”
Spontaneous combustion can occur when hay has either not properly dried before baling, or has been exposed to rain or damp conditions, meaning moisture content in the bales is higher than the recommended levels.
This can happen to any hay bales, regardless of size. After baling, check the heat and smell of the bales before stacking them into haysheds or large external stacks, and leave any suspect bales separate from the rest.
Hot bales will often omit an odour like burning tobacco, and heat inside bales can be detected by inserting a steel rod or crowbar into the centre of a bale or stack of hay.
Since 2008, CFA has responded to around 1600 haystack fires. By producing hay in the right conditions and checking bales for heat before stacking haystacks, you can limit the chances of adding this seasons hay to those statistics and save yourself from loss of valuable fodder and other costly impacts of a fire.
- It is important to ensure hay is well cured before bailing.
- Know the history of the hay you purchase.
- Keep haystacks to a limited size.
- Monitor moisture and temperature of your hay regularly.
- Watch for unusual odours such as pipe tobacco, caramel, burning or musty smells.
- Store hay in separate stacks or sheds away from farm equipment and other buildings.
- Keep your hay dry. Protect it from rain, leaking rooves or spouts, and runoff. Cover stacks with tarps or hay caps.
- Don’t stack hay right to the top of a hay shed. Allow some air to circulate at the top – this helps to carry away moisture.
Temperature Guide – what to do when your hay is overheating
Use a thermometer in a probe or insert a crowbar into the middle of the stack for 2 hours
- Less than 50°C (can handle bar without discomfort): Check temperature daily.
- 50°C – 60°C (can only handle crowbar for short time): Check temperature twice daily. Remove machinery from shed.
- 60°C – 70°C (can touch bar only briefly): Check temperature every 2-4 hours. Move hay to improve air flow.