Saturday as we drove to Moses Lake for the baptism, we passed through the smoke of this fire that hung in the air by the highway. Several structures had gone up in flames and several covered haystacks. A sad loss.
This company makes tarps that cover haystacks. We see haystacks every day as we travel. I’m learning that 30-40% of the hay that is produced here is exported to places like Japan Korea, Taiwan and China. Hay is one of the top 10 crops raised in this area, and it brings in hundreds of thousand of dollars in revenue each year.
Hay storage can be a little tricky. Once cut, dried and baled, it’s stacked in long haystacks that can be as tall as a 2 story building and covered with tarps to keep moisture out. If moisture gets into the hay, it can self combust, or burst into flames. I thought maybe that’s what happened when we saw this fire Saturday.
Here’s a technical description of how that happens from the Washington State Extension Service:
Spontaneous Combustion: how it happens
The process of spontaneous combustion involves both microbial growth and chemical changes and may be slow to develop. The wet hay will first stimulate microbial growth and as these organisms grow they produce heat while drying out the surrounding surfaces of the hay for energy. More drying surfaces produces more microbial growth and different types of microbes live and die as the internal bale temperature climbs.
When the bale temperature reaches about 150 Fº the hay is on a one-way street and going the wrong direction! The larger the haystack and the more densely packed the hay is the longer it may take to show signs of internal bale burning. Internal bale temperature may take several weeks before reaching 150 Fº, but from this point on more heat resistant bacteria, called exothermic bacteria, start a process of chemical change that rapidly increases temperatures to the point of spontaneous combustion.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the principles we teach, the Doctrine of Christ: Faith Repentance, Baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, and Enduring to the End. There’s quite a bit of imagery in the scriptures about fire, and usually it has to do with not repenting. We invite all to come unto Christ, and repent, which is a big term for simply changing, or trying to be better. That’s something we each can do, in small ways, every day. If we don’t repent, I suppose we are also on a path to self destruction.
The interesting thing to me is that from all outward appearances, the haystack looks perfectly fine, but deep within, there’s trouble. We can extinguish that trouble in our own lives by turning away from sin, by repenting, and by trying hard each day to be a little better.
Extension Service Washington State University
Here’s the news report of Friday’s fire:
Fire rages through Moses Lake business after explosion
By Associated Press Published: Jul 17, 2015 at 11:33 AM PDT Wash. (AP)
A dramatic fire and explosion that sent a propane tank flying 1,000 feet burned five buildings Friday at a company that makes plastic tarps to cover haystacks and set fire to 11,000 tons of hay in central Washington state. The blaze closed Interstate 90, the state’s main east-to- west freeway, in both directions for about two hours. No one was injured. The fire that engulfed the five buildings was out by late Friday afternoon, but the nearby haystacks will burn for days, Grant County sheriff’s spokesman Kyle Foreman said. The haystack fires will be monitored to make sure they don’t spread, he said. The inferno that sent up a towering mushroom cloud of flames and smoke was started accidentally by sparks generated as workers used a saw to cut metal, county Deputy Fire Marshal Nathan Poplawski said. Calls and emails seeking comment from Inland Tarp & Liner were not immediately returned. The company has warehouses across the country. The flames were driven by 20 mph winds, combustible materials at the tarp company and multiple propane tanks that periodically vented. More than an hour after the fire started, a large propane tank exploded and “flew 1,000 feet down range and ignited a haystack,” Foreman said. The wind then pushed the flames into other nearby haystacks. Kim Ragan said he drove out to the area Friday morning to make sure his friend’s house was not burning, and he saw a massive explosion the size of a football field that sent a plume of black smoke into the sky. About 75 firefighters and law enforcement officers responded, Foreman said. “We’re very grateful nobody was hurt,” he said.