A bale fire located 10 miles north of Stanmore, Ab. had neighbouring farmers arriving with heavy loaders and tractors attempting to save as many bales as they could before they were engulfed by flames on Sun. Oct. 21.
There were approximately 1,500 bales in the stockpile and neighbour Carter Link estimated that at least 75 were salvaged.
Youngstown Fire Department attended the scene first and then called in the Hanna Fire Department as a mutual aid call.
This all began at 10:51 a.m. and the departments did not leave until they were certain it wasn’t going to start up again. The last department was reported to be back in service around 3:30 p.m.
“It was in Youngstown’s response area but they called for mutual aid because I’d seen it from Hanna and thought ‘Well if I can see it from Hanna, I’m going to respond’,” said Special Areas Fire Chief Glen Durand. “It’s just the nature of it, it’s so dry with the low humidity. It was early in the morning which was good. It wasn’t windy and there was still some pretty high humidity there but it was in a field which was all brown grass so a wildfire certainly could have existed.”
The Chief suspected spontaneous combustion as the culprit for the fire although the incident still remains under investigation.
“It’s an organic breakdown that creates a lot of heat in the bale. The bale starts on fire is what happens. That’s what it appears to be happening [in this case]. Those green feed bales are the ones that go first and that makes sense because it has the highest moisture,” explained Durand.
While all hay will heat internally as it dries from the natural fermentation process, hay that is very high in moisture will get hot enough that it can form flammable gases inside of the bales that can catch on fire.
The owner, Thane Russell, was on babysitting duty overnight as the pile continued to burn slowly. The area was disked to make a barrier around the area to further prevent any outside burning.
This bale fire is only a sign of more bad news for farmers as feed prices rise due to poor weather conditions over the past two years as well.
“With feed already around $120 to $140 a tonne, it’s a very significant loss so it could potentially be a couple hundred thousand dollar loss. It’s pretty hard to absorb that,” added Durand.
Russell owns property in Cochrane and Special Areas. He was going to use the feed stored over the winter for stock he has in Cochrane and does not sell feed as it is all used for personal purposes such as this.
“We almost never sell forage so for us it’s really just our cost of production that we are worried about and how we are going to replace it,” said Russell.
At the time of the incident, Russell was on a cattle drive in another pasture when he received a call from a neighbour about smoke coming from the bale stack.
“We rushed over as fast as we could but when we got there, there wasn’t much we could do,” said Russell.
He planned on keeping all of their heifers for an expanded herd next year but ‘with this loss, we might not be able to do that.’
Russell was grateful for the community support when it was needed most.
“This community is so fantastic,” said Russell. “You know they are always ready to chip in and within 15 or 20 minutes we had all kinds of neighbours here. The fire departments responded very quickly. They were here right away. We really couldn’t ask for any better response from neighbours or fire departments.”
He concluded, “That’s what is insistent about this community around Hanna. Wonderful group of people and they always strive to do their best to help each other.”