At 1:05 pm on Sunday, August 6, 2017, the Chestertown Volunteer Fire Company and Kennedyville Volunteer Fire Company Tanker 4 was dispatched to what was first reported as a “Small Outside Fire” in the 7500 block of Broad Neck Road.
Units arrived to find numerous large “hay bales” on fire. In the fire service community, it’s common knowledge that hay bales will occasionally self-combust, especially if they were baled green. Here is how that occurs. If the material being cut is still green, it starts to decompose, a process that started even before the baling operation begins. We know from simple high school physics decomposition creates heat. While the cut material is laying in the field, before being baled, this is not a problem. The heat is able to be dispersed to the atmosphere.
However? When this material is packaged tightly into bales, the heat has trouble escaping. Consequently, the internal temperature in the bale begins to rise. Left undisturbed, the temperature can exceed a point where the bale begins to smolder, then eventually break into open flame. In the fire service, we call this process “Going through a heat!” Through the years, there have been many incidents just this sort. Many a hay barn has been lost because of this phenomenon.
Dealing with a situation like this is time-consuming. Each bale has to be separated from the rest, then broken apart and copious amounts of water applied to quell the fire. This incident required tanker support from Betterton VFC and Kennedyville VFC.
After bringing the situation under control, the decision was made to turn responsibility for the situation back to the farmer. They would continue to watch it and call for help if necessary. Even though we deemed the situation “under control”, It should be noted a fire of this type can smolder and burn for a long time, days or even weeks. It is entirely possible people passing by might see or smell smoke. Not to worry. The farmer is monitoring the situation, which is contained in an environment from which the fire can not escape.
However? If at anytime a member of the public, passing by, suspects the situation is not stable, they should immediately dial 9-1-1 and report it. We would rather err on the side of safety!
Crews operated on this incident for about 1 hour, 45 minutes. There was no injuries to either emergency responders or civilians.
Photographs courtesy of Chestertown Volunteer Fire Company members!