[LA FEATURE]California Wildfires

LA FEATURE

Coverage of brush fires across the state

Exploding Manure: Fire Dangers Pile Up in Hot Weather

By Jonathan Lloyd
|  Wednesday, Sep 23, 2009  |  Updated 10:31 AM PDT
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Manure can become a pile of potent and potential problems when temperatures -- and the gases emitted by animal waste -- rise.

Although an official cause has not been determined, spontaneous combustion of animal waste is one of the possible triggers of an 8,500-acre wildfire in Ventura County. The fire started Tuesday at about 10:30 a.m. and quickly expanded between Moopark and Fillmore.

Here's how manure can create a big stink for firefighters.

As manure breaks down, it produces gases like methane and hydrogen sulfide. Add triple-digit heat and you have a combustible situation in which manure can explode and catch fire.

Temperatures reached the low 100s Tuesday in the Moorpark area. Wind and light fuel allowed the fire to spread from about 300 acres to 1,500 acres early Tuesday afternoon. 

When decomposition occurs in an enclosed area, it's even more dangerous. The volatile gases rise and build at the top of the enclosure.

Authorities have not said where the fire started. The Ventura County Sheriff's Department said cited "manure spontaneous combustion from a local ranch" as a possible cause.

Exploding manure is somewhat common in farm communities, and it has caused large wildfires.

A manure-caused wildfire in Nebraska burned for months in 2005 after starting at a feed lot. In Texas, a deadly fire was caused in part by waste stored in bags on a truck.

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