Time To Think About Fire Prevention, Fire Safety This Summer
August 2, 2023 | View PDF
Bozeman, MT - Much of Montana has enjoyed a wet spring, and green grass has stretched well into mid-summer resulting in fat cattle and extensive haying. However, as the days grow warmer and the chance for moisture lessens, the odds of late summer fires increase whether man-made or from natural causes.
For those ranchers and farmers haying, it’s important to check bales for moisture content.
“This year, we may see folks putting up wet hay for the first time in a while, especially if they are running behind and want to catch up,” says Montana Ag Safety Program Director Dana Jansen.
“Wet hay will self-ignite. Probe bales regularly and install moisture sensors on balers if possible. Mark all wet bales and leave them unstacked, then monitor the bale temperature frequently. Don’t stack those bales until you are certain they are dry and are not as likely to combust.”
Jansen cautions farmers and ranchers to keep hay, straw, and bedding materials stored away from buildings, and if possible, on areas of bare ground. Consider multiple hay yard sites to minimize overall risk and impact. Often insurance policies dictate the tonnage of bales and the distance between haystacks.
“Maintain all equipment at manufacturer-recommended intervals. Replace worn or broken parts and regularly grease the bearings,” Jansen cautioned. “Properly maintained equipment is less likely to start a fire.”
Whether you own a large ranch, a small farm or a cabin in the mountains, it’s essential to mow all the grass short around buildings, bins, and areas with high vehicle traffic. Dry grass poses a significant risk for fire. Short grass in these areas can prevent significant damage and danger later in the summer as it dries out.
Other precautions include using extreme caution with sources of ignition, such as fence chargers, matches, sparks, batteries and equipment. Make sure there are working fire extinguishers on equipment and in buildings.
Jansen, who is a volunteer firefighter in Lavina, MT, tells landowners to ensure there is access to all areas of the ranch and build and maintain roads.
“Folks don’t consider that gates should be wide enough for equipment and vehicles to easily pass through and be opened easily. No fence stretchers! If they can’t open the gate in a fire emergency, that gate will be cut,” explained Jansen. She added that having names for your pastures and the GPS coordinates for that location can help the dispatcher and fire fighters find your property quickly.
“Whether you’re new to our state or a generational rancher, it’s important to remember that wildfires are part of living here. Have defensible space around your dwelling, keep your lawn mowed short, don’t store firewood next to your home and don’t park in tall grass. Be sure to have an adequate water supply available,” Jansen said.
“It’s imperative to have an evacuation plan for your family and your animals,” she noted. “Stay up to date on the fire conditions and heed all warning and orders. Remember, human life is a fire fighter’s number-one priority.”