Agriculture Experts Warn Arkansas Farmers About Hay Fires

Sep 20, 2013

Recent rain has curbed wildfires in some parts of Arkansas, but agricultural experts say those showers will do little to improve conditions in areas suffering from extreme drought conditions.

GREAT BALES OF FIRE -- Stacked round bales ablaze in this file photo taken in August 2013 in Miller County.
Credit Doug Petty / Univ. of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture

Dr. Jon Barry is a forester and volunteer firefighter in southwestern Arkansas. As a specialist with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, Barry says hay fires in some pastures can be difficult to extinguish and some hay bales can spontaneously combust.

"There are two types of problems that we see with hay bales. The first issue is when they’re not properly dried before they’re stored in the barn. If [bales] are stacked in the barn before they’re properly dried, then they start generating their own heat and can generate enough heat to set themselves on fire in the barn,” said Barry. “The second issue is when a farmer is baling hay and [a malfunction] starts a fire and as it burns across the field it sets bales of hay on fire.”   

Barry says fires usually start in a hay field when a baler hits a rock and creates sparks.

Mechanical problems with a baler can also set a hay bale on fire while it’s in the machine and that blaze can then spread once the bale comes in contact with loose hay on the ground.   

Barry admits round bales of hay that are aflame are difficult to put out, because of how they’re rolled and the grass they’re made of.