WITH strong seasonal growth of pastures and crops, CFA District 9 is warning local farmers to exercise caution when cutting, baling and storing hay.

CFA volunteer firefighters responded to dozens of haystack fires across the state last year, and District 9 Acting Assistant Chief Fire Officer Emma Conway said there had already been instances in the local area this season.

‘We have seen significant grass growth right across the Gippsland area which has been great for our farmers, but it also presents some challenges for our firefighters with the increase in fuel, especially along roadsides,’ Ms Conway said.

‘The current weather pattern makes drying hay challenging with warm periods interspersed with rain, and it doesn’t take much to make the hay damp.

‘With so many farmers trying to get hay finished, we understand it can be difficult for contractors to ask farmers to wait until the grass on the ground is fully dry.

‘The risk of baling early, however, can have devastating consequences.’

Ms Conway said haystack fires can start quite easily from lightning strikes or sparks from equipment and machinery, but a major source of ignition is spontaneous combustion of the haybales themselves.

CFA recommends that farmers:
• Keep haystacks to a limited size, and don’t stack hay right to the top of a hay shed.
• Monitor moisture and temperature of your hay regularly.
• Watch for unusual odours such as pipe tobacco, caramel, burning or musty smells.
• Store hay in separate stacks or sheds away from farm equipment and other buildings.
• Keep your hay dry. Protect it from rain, leaking rooves or spouts, and runoff. Cover stacks with tarps or hay caps.
Temperature guide – use a thermometer in a probe or insert a crowbar into the middle of the stack for two hours:
• Less than 50°C (can handle crowbar without discomfort): Check temperature daily.
• 50°C – 60°C (can only handle crowbar for short time): Check temperature twice daily. Remove machinery from shed.
• 60°C – 70°C (can touch bar only briefly): Check temperature every 2-4 hours. Move hay to improve air flow.
• Over 70 °C (bar is too hot to hold): Potential for fire. Call 000 immediately.