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Minnesota farmers dealing with more barn fires as a result of drought, heat

Six hay barns in Winona County go up in flames in 2 weeks
Six hay barns in Winona County go up in flames in 2 weeks 02:12

MELROSE, Minn. -- Farmers in parts of the state now considered to be in extreme drought, have been dealing with a unique problem this summer.

Six hay barns burned over a two-week period in Winona County. That's already three times as many as they saw last year.

"We've got a lot of cows having calves right now so life, all the time, that's always great," said Dennis Middendorf, dairy farmer.

At 3D Dairy near Melrose, farm life is fast-paced. Middendorf's dairy cows rely on hay for milk production. But simply storing hay bales during a hot, dry summer, has become a risky venture. The heat has nowhere to go.

"If you have too much hay on top of each other it can't get out. It gets hot, it's over 170 degrees. You get some black bales or start a fire," said Middendorf.

Farmers in southeastern Minnesota know that all too well. The Wilson Township Fire Department has responded to a record number of barn fires this year. They've documented the destruction on their Facebook page. In almost every case, the barn and everything inside were lost.

Part of the challenge for rural fire departments is finding a water source to put out hay barn fires. Often times that source can be several miles away. Which is why Middendorf does all he can to keep his barns in one piece. He doesn't stack his bales too high and he tries to keep a breeze blowing through his buildings.

"I think the key is keep space in your bales. Keep them low height-wise, 2 or 3 high," said Middendorf.

Just another challenge during an already challenging summer.

"I've seen barn fires, they aren't fun for anything. Cattle, people. "You've always got that in the back of your mind. You don't want a fire that's starting and spreads elsewhere."

Middendorf said he also moves his bales from time to time, to reduce the risk of a fire. A caramel, burning or musty smell is a sign bales could be catching fire.

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