Sometimes, when harvest conditions are less than ideal, silage with lower-than-optimum moisture levels is put into a silo, potentially leading to excessive heating and a spontaneous-combustion fire.
When a silo burns, you can lose a tremendous investment of time and money and can face a huge cost to replace ruined feed, but many silo fires can be managed and the damage and loss minimized, according to an agricultural-emergencies expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.
"The goal in managing a fire inside a silo is locating the fire area and controlling that area without affecting the rest of the material," said Davis Hill, director of the Managing Agricultural Emergencies Program. "Better to lose a few tons than a few hundred tons. This is not an easy task but not an impossible one."
The earlier a fire is detected, the easier it is to control, Hill noted, so it is important to regularly monitor silos for a month after harvest. That is a critical time when natural fermentation and heating is taking place inside the silo.