Summer's coming and so is the likelihood of hay fires.
Increasing in frequency on America's farms, hay fires occur most often during the hot months of June, July and August, says insurance and workplace safety expert Rick Adams.
"Insurance companies are very concerned about hay losses,” Adams says. "The loss ratio for most insurers on hay coverage is 200% or more. It's not uncommon to see $500,000 losses in a single hay fire.”
You can reduce the risk of a hay fire on your farm with these tips from Adams, who's with California-based Winton Ireland Strom & Green.
Electrical sources are common starting points for hay fires, Adams says. When possible, keep electricity out of barns used for hay storage. Maintain and monitor the condition of all electrical units. That means no open boxes. Keep dust under control as much as possible.
Lightning is another frequent cause of hay fire. To reduce risk, place lightning rods on metal barns. Hay in the open is also susceptible to lightning, though fire usually results after lightning hits a neighboring structure and spreads to your stored hay.
Hay fires frequently originate with arson and accidents. Disgruntled employees are the No. 1 cause in this category, Adams says. To lower the risk, keep hay away from public access and maintain dusk-to-dawn lights. Make certain any smoking areas are well away from hay and that proper cigarette receptacles are placed there. "Better yet, have a smoke-free workplace,” he advises.
Spontaneous combustion is another leading cause of hay fires. Cut hay is not dead, since plant sugars will continue to burn, or "sweat.” That's a normal process that occurs naturally in all bales. "But baled hay with a moisture level of 20% or more can produce a perfect environment for bacteria growth, making it susceptible to spontaneous combustion,” Adams says.
To reduce the fire risk from hay moisture concentration, make small bales at a moisture level of 20% or less. Large bales or rounds should have a level of 18% or less.
Concern over hay fires now has insurers writing stack or dollar limits into policies. "This is even when the hay is in the barn,” Adams says. "This can limit your coverage in the event of a loss.”
CONTROLLING A HAY FIRE
Contact your fire department immediately with your address and directions.
Evacuate any livestock.
Turn off any electrical to that area.
Monitor wind direction and remove other hay and commodities located downwind.
Be careful when removing hay from a burning barn. Smoldering hay can ignite easily and spread the fire.
Water down surrounding hay and buildings if a high-pressure hose is available.
If the fire department wants to accelerate burnout by breaking into bales, make certain the firemen have adequate trucks, equipment and water.
Signs of an imminent hay fire
More tips on controlling hay-fire risk