ST. GEORGE — Multiple agencies and water tankers responded to a massive haystack fire reported Wednesday in Bunkerville, Nevada, when hundreds of tons of burning hay kept firefighters busy for more than five hours.
Early Wednesday evening firefighters were dispatched to what was initially called in as haystack and structure fire at the Bundy Ranch on Riverside Road and Gold Butte, Bunkerville Fire Chief Mike Wilson said.
Fire crews found the large haystack engulfed in flames, while the residence located nearby had no signs of smoke or flames.
“Our main goal at that point was to keep the fire from spreading to the home that was in close proximity to the fire, as well as several other structures on the property,” Wilson said.
He said that 300 tons of hay was burning in a haystack that covered an area of nearly 900 square yards, with 300 one-ton bales stacked more than 20 feet high.
Bunkerville firefighters were soon joined by crews from Mesquite Fire and Rescue, Beaver Dam/Littlefield Fire District and Moapa Valley Fire District, which sent crews and trucks from both Logandale and Overton, Nevada.
The fire stations responded with multiple fire engines as well as wildland water tenders or tanker trucks capable of carrying up to 3,000 gallons of water, which was “critical,” Wilson said, adding there were no fire hydrants or external water sources available on the property, at least not initially.
“Once we got there we were able to draft out an irrigation ditch which provided water, once Moapa Valley Fire arrived with the equipment and crews,” he said.
Because haystack fires burn from the inside out, firefighters had to get to fire burning in the center of the pile. They disassembled the haystack and broke apart the individual hay bales.
While the method is effective, it requires large equipment capable of moving large, heavy loads that are typically burning, which can be dangerous, Wilson said.
Even then, the water tends to run off of the top layer of the hay before it reaches the center of the stack where the material continues to burn fed by the oxygen readily available.
“You have to work water into the hay to put the fire out, so we had to spread the hay out over a large area,” he said.
After more than five hours the fire was extinguished, along with any visible embers that could reignite at a later time.
The risk, however, isn’t over, as Wilson said there could be hot spots buried under the material that were not detected, primarily due to the enormous amount of material that was burning. The property owners and ranch workers will keep a close eye on the area over the next few days and were advised to call 911 if they see smoke or fire.
“They could see hot spots for days to come,” Wilson said.
The investigation into the fire’s origin is ongoing.
In some instances, the fermentation process can cause spontaneous combustion, which can occur when air and water cause microorganisms to feed and multiply, a process that generates heat until all of the moisture is gone, Wilson said. However, should the process continue for an extended period of time or at a higher rate, the heat generated can reach a level where it ignites without any external source.
Wilson said the success of the operation hinged upon the mutual aid provided by so many fire departments that responded so quickly, providing crews, large earth-moving equipment and multiple trucks that remained at the scene until the end of the call.
There were no injuries reported during the incident.
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