20-foot Pile of Goat Manure Combusts in Windsor
Smelly Fire Ensues
A pile of goat manure is much less hot and smoky after fire crews used foam to extinguish the manure on Aug. 21, 2013. The manure pile combusted during the previous night. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap)
A status posted at 9:44 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 21 on the "Windsor, Birthplace of Vermont" Facebook page, which is overseen by Town Manager Tom Marsh.
Windsor — The owner of a Route 5 goat farm said roughly 120 cubic yards of goat manure spontaneously combusted into a small fire last night, creating a stench that spread for at least a couple of miles and which the police chief compared to the smell of “burning rubbish.”
George Redick, who owns and manages the 800-goat Oak Knoll Dairy farm south of town with his wife, Karen Lindbo, said the 20-foot pile of manure would typically have been spread around the farm earlier in the year, but the rainy season and other factors prevented that from happening.
Instead, the pile stayed — and last night, it combusted, erupting into small flames that were discovered by a worker who went to milk the goats around 3 a.m., he said.
“With the moisture in the ignitable material, it can combust,” Redick said. “I used to think (spontaneous combustion) was make-believe, but now I’m a believer.”
Redick and others doused the pile with a hose, but the pile continued smoking and smoldering this morning. He decided to wait until the morning to call the fire department for assistance, he said — but by 6:30 a.m., firefighters were already out looking for the source of the smell.
“They had been out looking for a source since 3 or 4 in the morning, so I showed them where it was,” he said.
Fire personnel have been at the scene off and on since Redick called them, he said.
Police Chief Stephen Soares said he noticed the smell on his way to work this morning, and it could be smelled at the municipal offices two miles from the farm.
“The farm itself is a couple miles from here, so it must have been fairly widespread,” Soares said.
The incident led to a peculiar posting on the “Windsor, Birthplace of Vermont” Facebook page, alerting residents to the cause of “that burning smell.”
“We have been getting a lot of calls about the odor permeating our community that smells like the town is on fire,” the posting said. “Here is the answer: Very early this morning a pile of goat manure spontaneously combusted. The fire department is on the scene and taking care of it. There is no danger to life or property.”
Several Facebook users said they woke up in the middle of the night searching for the source of the smell.
“I was up for a few HOURS off and on smelling what I thought was delicious hickory smoked barbecue!!!!!!!” wrote one person. “Now I find out I was smelling spontaneously combusted goat manure! A delicacy! The country life is humorous at times.”
Redick was taking the incident in stride, chuckling about the strangeness of it all. He said that was easier to do because the fire posed no threat; the manure pile is built into an embankment, preventing the fire from spreading.
“It’s not a danger to the buildings or anything,” he said, “but it’s fairly annoying.”
Posted to the Upper Valley Dispatch blog Wednesday at 12:05 p.m.
UPDATE at 1:45 p.m.: Town Manager Tom Marsh called in to say he could smell the stench this morning from his own home, high up on a hill about five miles from the farm.
“It was really foggy this morning, and it was a little disconcerting because it was a very strong smell, it wasn't like a whiff of something,” Marsh said.
He originally thought it might be remnants from a bonfire that his daughter had planned on attending, but after stopping by the Fire Department on his way into work, he said he learned that firefighters believed the manure pile spontaneously combusted.
“As the fire chief (Mark Kirko) said, if it gets up above 150 degrees, it can combust,” Marsh said.
Marsh, who manages the “Windsor, Birthplace of Vermont” Facebook page, said a typical post gets about 400 to 500 views. As of 1 p.m. today, the post about the goat manure had more than 2,500 views, he said.
“These are the kind of things that are more popular than just the dry, 'hey, there's a Paradise Park meeting next Tuesday,'” Marsh said.
Read the article in the Thursday, Aug. 22 of the "Valley News" here. Maggie Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.