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Smoke stack
Too much moisture can lead to fire

by Heather Smith Thomas, Article donated by the mane points horse resource center.

Every year, hay stacks and even barns are lost to fires caused by spontaneous combustion, the result of a chemical process that occurs when damp hay heats and ignites. Could a hidden inferno be lurking in your barn?

 Strangely enough, the problem is one of moisture. Moisture in hay can ferment, a process that builds heat. Most forage crops should be baled in the 8 to 15 percent moisture-content range. Granted, frequent rain can make it difficult to get hay dry enough to store, or threat of rain may mean hay is baled and stacked before it has dried sufficiently. While it's possible to get by at the higher end of the moisture range with grass hays, more than 15 percent moisture may be too high for legumes like alfalfa and clover.
The larger the bale, the less air surface per volume of hay; that means there's less chance for heat to escape. The tighter the bale, likewise the greater risk of heating. If baled too wet, even small bales may catch fire. A tight bale seals the wet material into an airtight package that hastens combustion. Sometimes it may take only a few days for the hot hay to burst into flames. In other cases, bales may take as long as six weeks to generate enough heat to catch fire. Always check bales for heat before hauling and stacking them if there is any chance they may have been baled a little wet or green. If you bale your own hay, use a moisture meter. If you are buying hay, check a few bales from every load before you store and stack them. If you suspect hay may be heating, open a bale and check. You can feel down between the flakes with your hand, or you can put a thermometer into a short metal pipe and insert it into the bale. If the temperature is more than 140 degrees, check the hay every few hours to see which way the temperature is heading. If it goes up to 180 degrees, combustion is imminent. Any bales that are heating should be moved away from barns. If you find a suspicious bale, move it to a safer area, break it open and let it air out. Even when it dries, be suspicious; wet hay generally molds and won't be acceptable for horses.



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