ST. GEORGE — Firefighters in Newcastle spent nearly all night fighting a barn fire caused by hay that spontaneously combusted Sunday evening.
Hay within a barn at Holt Dairy, a farm in the unincorporated Iron County town of Newcastle, most likely started on fire after being packed too tight when it was damp, said Brenden Moody, chief of Enterprise Fire Department, which responded to the fire.
Firefighters from Enterprise and Newcastle rushed over to the barn at about 8 p.m. Sunday, but when they arrived, the flames had already engulfed all four sides of the barn.
The barn was completely destroyed and caused “extensive” property loss, Moody said. There were no injuries for humans or animals from the fire, and there were no other structures around that could catch on fire.
Fires caused by hay are a “completely different beast” than typical structure fires because of how long the fire can burn, Moody said.
“Hay fires will burn for weeks if not months if you just let them burn,” Moody said. “So we had to use equipment to pull the hay out and we got some hoses to get it wet before they’re going to haul it off.”
Firefighters were finally released from the scene at about 3 a.m. Monday morning as the hay was still smoldering. Farmers at the scene continued to spray down the burning hay pile after the firefighters left.
Hay that catches fire after moisture within a tightly-packed bale overheats is a known problem among farmers and people who work with hay, Moody said.
“When you bale hay, you’ve got to make sure it’s dry enough and there’s not too much dew,” Moody said. “It’s just one of those things that happens.”
At the end of April, a similar chemical reaction happened in some peat moss in a planter on the porch of a home in Littlefield, Arizona.
As previously reported, according to William Raftery, a fire expert with Fire Engineering, spontaneous ignition or combustion is possible when peat moss or similar organic materials such as hay are involved, primarily because they contain bacteria that is then metabolized, which is a process that uses oxygen and produces heat.
As the process continues, the heat increases, which also increases the production of oxygen – fire’s two basic elements. If the temperature of the trapped air in the bale reaches a certain temperature, it can ignite, and the continuous production of oxygen is then used to feed the fire.
This report is based on statements from other emergency responders and may not contain the full scope of findings.
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