Our humanure caught FIRE!!!

The International Compost Sanitation Forum and Message Board: General Composting Issues: Our humanure caught FIRE!!!
Author: Joe Jenkins (Joe)
Thursday, December 18, 2008 - 11:28 am
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I suspected that someone threw some hot coals in the compost or something like that, not that the compost itself caught fire. It seems that only the pallets burned, not the compost, which make me suspicious as to the source of the fire. Maybe arson?

Author: Patrick (Pcinca)
Sunday, November 02, 2008 - 5:30 pm
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I have seen and heard of all size heaps spontaneously combust and I wonder if methane production might have play a roll here. Any type of fecal matter will produce gas when bacterially breaking down.

Author: Larry Warnberg (Larry)
Sunday, November 02, 2008 - 3:07 pm
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Thanks to Jesse for the photos and post about the fire. Glad to see you are alive and well, and no buildings were destroyed.
I googled "spontaneous combustion in compost piles," finding lots of interesting information. From the University of Minnesota Extension: Questions sometimes arise about spontaneous combustion in compost piles. Spontaneous combustion is the occurrence of fire without the application of an external heat source and can be caused by chemical, biological, or physical processes. Organic material can ignite spontaneously due to biological activity at moisture contents between 26-46% moisture if the temperature exceeds 200 degrees F. These high temperatures only occur with restricted air flow and piles exceeding a height of seven feet. Spontaneous combustion happens to stored hay or silage and only in rare cases to compost. No documented cases of spontaneous combustion have been reported for compost piles smaller than seven feet. Most reported fires occurring in compost piles are the result of external sources such as matches or the addition of hot ashes. In short, a well maintained compost pile with temperatures less than 150 degrees F will not spontaneously combust. If a compost pile gets too hot--more than 160 degrees F--you can cool it down by 1) reducing the size of the pile; 2) adding water to 55% moisture; or 3) mixing in coarse, bulky material such as wood chips. Compost piles work best at temperatures between 130-150 degrees F.
http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/components/3296-03.html
Jesse's compost piles don't appear to be anywhere close to 7 feet tall. Makes me wonder if there was another source of ignition?

Author: Jesse Pursley (Jessepursley)
Saturday, November 01, 2008 - 6:49 pm
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Hi all, wanted to give you the news that our humanure piles caught fire today, big time, totally on their own, and burned the whole operation to the ground. We've been humanuring for 4 years with 4 piles in rotation and on a cool fall day after a generous watering from the hose the day before, we came out to see all 4 piles and their pallet bins engulfed in flames. We were able to put it mostly out with hoses and then the fire department came and sprayed biodegradable soap on the whole thing and stirred up the piles. We had a "fresh" pile that they stirred very tentatively, not quite sure what it was, we told them it was compost, dog poop, and baby poop, which was true (but we didn't tell them it was all of our poop too). They were very nice about the whole thing, did a great job and told us compost fires happen all the time, mostly with horse poop piles. So WATCH OUT!!! I'd love to hear some ideas on how to prevent this sort of thing, as we will rebuild our humanure system, but maybe we can do it a bit more fire proof. None of us can hardly believe this happened, we've never seen temperatures over 160 degrees F in our piles before. But at least it's heating up good! Damn! Here's some pictures. Adios for now. Humanure FIRE!!!Wow, we can't hardly believe it!

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