Spontaneous combustion of hay ricks and heaps

FIREFIGHTERS are warning farmers to check their hay regularly for the risk of spontaneous combustion. Hay crops are destroyed on a regular basis because of fires caused in this way. The Fire and Rescue Service recommends that farmers check regularly and i

FIREFIGHTERS are warning farmers to check their hay regularly for the risk of spontaneous combustion.

Hay crops are destroyed on a regular basis because of fires caused in this way.

The Fire and Rescue Service recommends that farmers check regularly and if they detect a slight caramel odour or a distinct musty smell, the chances are the hay is heating up.

The likelihood of such an occurrence can vary from season to season and is more prevalent in hot humid weather when crops are baled before they are properly air dried in the field.


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A hay crop that is placed too wet into a rick may heat quite rapidly or over the space of a few weeks. If the rick is so large or confined in such a way that heat loss is restricted, the internal temperature will rise.

Farmers are advised to check the temperature within ricks by way of a probe.

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They should watch for the following temperatures:

*150�F (65�C) ....Moderate to high risk. Check temperature daily.

*160�F (70�C).... High risk. Measure temperature every four hours and inspect rick. Re-locate nearby livestock, machinery and any chemical fertilisers away from the rick.

*175�F (80�C) ....Consider calling the Fire and Rescue Service! Wet hay down and remove from the barn.

*185�F (85�C) ....Hot spots and pockets may be expected. Flames will likely develop when heating hay comes in contact with the air.

*212�F (100�C) ....Critical. Temperature rise is rapid above this point. Hay will almost certainly ignite.

The Fire and Rescue Service warns that before entering on to a rick, it should be considered whether pockets may have already burned out under the hay surface. Do not attempt to walk on the hay mass itself, but instead consider placing long planks or some other suitable material on top of the hay to walk on. Consider securing the person by way of a line around their waist and always have a second person standing by in case the surface of the hay should collapse.

Spontaneous combustion is predictable and should be carefully managed. By following good storage practices, not only can spontaneous combustion be avoided, but a higher quality of hay will be obtained.

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