Unexpected excitement erupted on Croobyar Farm on Sunday afternoon when several bales of hay caught fire, sending smoke and flames billowing out of one of the farm's haysheds.
A Croobyar team member noticed thick, white smoke coming out of the haysheds as he and the herd were making their way to the dairy for the afternoon milking session. Andrew Baxter -- the farm manager -- and Rob jumped into their tractors and headed towards the smouldering haystack.
Using a tractor and grab, Andrew removed the burning bales from the shed before the entire stack went up in flames. The burning bales were shifted a safe distance away, broken apart, and left to smoulder to ash on grassy paddocks. Fortunately, no-one was injured, no animals were affected, no equipment was lost, and the shed was not significantly damaged.
Haystack fires, according to the NSW Rural Fire Service, are "more common than you think." (The haystack fire on Croobyar Farm was the first one Rob had ever experienced during almost three decades of farming.)
Spontaneous combustion is a serious risk when storing hay, particularly if the harvested product isn't properly cured or dried sufficiently before it is baled. When it comes into contact with oxygen, that moisture can turn into heat.
One of the most notable features of the weather we experienced this past weekend was the strong westerly wind. Powerful gusts were recorded in Ulladulla (7km from Croobyar Farm) by the Bureau of Meteorology for Saturday and Sunday -- check out the BoM observation sheet below. It's possible that the combination of a lot of fast-moving oxygenated air over some uncured hay could have led to that spontaneous combustion, but we don't know for sure.
Coincidentally, firefighters were also called to a blaze at the Manildra Bolong Road Complex on Sunday which took a lot of effort to control and extinguish. South Coast Register has more on that event plus some photographs of the combust inside a product shed.