After a busy season for hay growers, the CFA is warning farmers to keep an eye on haystacks.
According to the Victorian Farmers Federation’s Wimmera grains councillor, Ryan Milgate, hay grown in dryer conditions this year is higher in sugar content, which makes it more flammable.
There have been at least two major haystack fires in western Victoria in the past week, one near Warracknabeal and one near Inverleigh, with large fires near Carisbrook and Willaura last week.
Haystack fires are particularly hard to extinguish, as they burn hot and usually have plenty of fuel nearby.
Mr Milgate said it was unusual to have so many fires.
“We saw it in 2007 as well, another significant drought year,” he said.
“It’s come to the point now where if there’s any hay stacked this year, keep a close eye on it daily.
“We’ve seen a few fires in the Wimmera as well, where there’s haystacks outside then the significant rain a few weeks ago, which has seeped into the bales.”
The CFA’s deputy chief fire officer, Gavin Freeman, agreed.
“There has been a significant increase in the last few months for some reason, and we’ll work with the VFF to get to the bottom of that,” he said.
“We know farmers are keen to do the right thing with their hay - particularly as weather starts to warm up, drive past (haystacks) pretty regularly.”
A fire could be “devastating” for a farm that had already weathered drought conditions, Mr Milgate added, especially as hay is going for about $2 to 300 per bale at the moment for most varieties, and $4 to 500 per bale for lucerne.
“You’ve got this stack you’re trying to sell that’s good quality, and you’re watching it disappear in smoke and flames,” he said.
“It affects the supply demand balance, it could make it trickier.”
Haystack fires occur when moisture gets into hay bales.
Chemical reactions occur which generate heat inside the haybale, which can cause spontaneous combustion.
Typical signs to look out for include an odd smell, steam, mould, or a collapsing structure.
Farmers should use heat probes or a crowbar to test for heat inside the bale, but not pull it apart - the rush of oxygen could cause the bale to ignite.
Instead, ensure there’s a 20 metre firebreak around the haystack, and pull the stack apart, leaving the bales intact.
Phone the fire brigade immediately if there any concerns.
Mr Freeman also advised farmers should keep haystacks in different parts of their property, and to research where they were sourcing their hay.
“You need to know the history of it, to make sure it’s not damp,” he said.
“We know farmers are keen to do the right thing with their hay.”
District 17 operations officer Lindsay Barry has attended a few fires this year already.
“It seems to be tied in with the weather event we’ve received in December - it was quite an amount of rain, which seems to be having an effect on the hay,” he said.
He had a blunt warning for farmers.
“What we don’t want is a haystack fire on a very hot or severe fire danger day, because it’ll be a haystack fire for two minutes, then it’s a fast moving grass fire that’s a lot more destructive,” he said.
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