A chicken manure fire inside a litter shed in Accomack County is still smoldering and burning after igniting close to two weeks ago. The manure ignited due to spontaneous combustion. Charles Pruitt from the Department of Public safety, as well as Supervisor Dist.7 Laura Belle Gordy have responded–Public safety has contacted Tyson Foods who has stated has plans “to deal with it”. According to DEQ regulations, there apparently is no immediate solution. The fire cannot be doused with water and it cannot be spread out to cool the embers.
At last report from Public Safety Director Charles Pruitt, he has contacted the owner, who has begun the process of breaking down the pile. On site,the metal pieces have been removed from the pile, but the manure is still smoking heavily and could be detected up to 3 or 4 miles away.
Editor’s Note: The Mirror would not have been able to report this story without the help of Miriam Riggs, who was our boots on the ground, providing professional updates, images and data over a week long period. Many thanks to Miriam.
The basic chemical explanation involves microbial activity, which, by its nature, produces heat and methane gas. Heat is also produced at the boundary between moist and dry litter. Given this scenario, overheating and spontaneous combustion may occur as temperatures climb above 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, when dry litter comes in contact with moist litter, the dry litter absorbs moisture, causing more heat to be released, and when the piles are large, the amount of heat released can be significant. Within the bins or sheds, if the piles are constrained, heat cannot escape; overheating may result, and as in this case, catch fire. When manure is removed from the pile, it may burst into flames when exposed to air.
As of this report, the exact cause of the combustion is not known.
Currently, Accomack County is hoping to add up to eighty more similar poultry operations, and Northampton, though on a more limited basis, is also courting chicken farming. As intensive farming operations increase in number and size, our localities should invest in more training for our local firefighters and emergency responders on how to best interact with these types of incidents, as techniques and approaches may seem counter-intuitive (that is, dousing it with water may make it worse). As Northampton moves forward on bringing intensive poultry farming to the County, it should take note here. Due to the normal chemical interactions associated with large manure storage facilities, fires such as this are not uncommon.