If you've lived in southern Chester County, you know that mushrooms are big business -- they represent one of the biggest industries unique to our area, and, yes, more mushrooms are grown in our area than in most other places around the globe.
Mushrooms are grown in carefully created compost, composed of hay, straw and other products. As those products are made into compost, they create an odor that is the "smell of money" in our area. To make the compost, most mushroom farms have to receive and store large quantities of hay. Sometimes, when that hay begins to spoil after it gets wet, the natural process of breaking down creates heat -- and, in the right conditions, can catch on fire. These haybale fires are a challenge for mushroom farmers and for firefighters.
With most fires, simply pouring water on puts out the fire. But with burning hay and compost, the heat of the fire is down in the core of large piles of material, often deep within highly compacted bales. Fire fighters in this area have years of experience fighting these fires, and we know that the only way to extinguish the fire is to break apart the bales with heavy machinery and flood the spread out materials with water. It's slow, dirty work. And, in most cases, the best solution is to push the burning materials off to the side where they are no longer a risk to buildings and non-burning hay and straw and let the pile burn itself out (simply because the effort to finally extinguish the materials is considerable and not productive).
Such was the case at Laurel Valley Farms in New Garden township on Friday, when 911 dispatchers got word of a large haybale fire at the mushroom farm. When the first arriving Avondale crews arrived, they found a large pile of haybales burning on a wharf that held hundreds of large bales (these bales are about 12 feet long, four feet wide, and four feet high -- they each weigh a ton or more). Avondale immediately requested additional water tankers and ladder trucks, working to isolate the burning materials from the rest of the hay piles. That process began a firefighting effort that lasted nearly 6.5 hours.
Complicating the effort was that Friday was a very hot and humid day, and the weather really took a toll on the dozens of firefighters who operated handlines and aerials. West Grove crews manned Ladder 22 and Tanker 22 to assist Avondale with their scene, with units from Po-Mar-Lin, Hockessin, Kennett Square, Longwood and other organizations also assisting.
With the risk to other materials mitigated and most of the fire handled, units cleared. Smoke from the fire was visible all across the area, and smoldering materials continued to generate smoke over the next several days.