Fire service issues bale storage advice after barn fires

As the warm, dry weather continues, the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service has issued warnings to farmers after a recent spike in the number of barn fires.

Each year in the UK an average of 1,600 agricultural buildings and 85,000 areas of grassland are destroyed by fire, with increased risk around haymaking time due to variable temperatures within bale stacks.

See also: 14 ways to stay safe this harvest  

To reduce the likelihood of a barn fire, the fire and rescue service has issued the following advice.

  • Stored bales must not have a moisture content greater than 22%. Anything above this poses a risk of heating up once stacked, leading to spontaneous combustion.
  • For baled hay, straw and bracken, the moisture content should be between 18-20% before being stacked.
  • The temperature of bales should be below 35°C before being brought off the field. Above this, bales can maintain their own heat generation to a point where spontaneous combustion can occur.
  • Where possible, stacks of bales should be sited separately, away from other farm buildings, especially livestock buildings.
  • Keep stacks to a reasonable size, well apart and dry.
  • Avoid storing fertilisers, chemicals, gas cylinders, tractors and other machinery in barns containing bales. 
  • Ensure that all electrical equipment and wiring is well-maintained.
  • If bales are smouldering or on fire, call 999 immediately.
  • Signs of bales overheating may include discolouration or browning in some areas. Another sign is stacks that are seen to be “steaming” early or late in the day, with the presence of a sweet, sickly smell.

Free bale temperature testing

For farmers within the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service region, the department can be contacted for a free bale temperature check using specialist equipment. To book a test, call 01268 909 404.