High Temperatures in Upstate New York Cause Manure Pile to Spontaneously Combust

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Think your state is stuck in a heat wave? Earlier this July, temperatures grew so hot in an upstate New York town that a large pile of horse manure spontaneously caught on fire and filled the municipality with its stench, the Associated Press reports.

On July 5, residents of Throop, New York—a tiny village 20 miles west of Syracuse—noticed an awful smell. They complained to New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), who investigated the pungent aroma’s source. The culprit, they ended up explaining in a release, was a burning stockpile of manure outside an unidentified stable.

The stable’s owners had stored the dung in large heaps. Thanks to the heat and the stable’s dry conditions, the poop frequently combusted, they said. People only noticed, though, after a shift in winds carried the noxious odor across town. Typically, the owners explained, the breeze blew the smoke away from the stables.

Three local fire departments extinguished the blaze in a two-hour battle, DEC officials said, and the stable's owners were instructed to “mitigate the combustion problem immediately.” However, the fire's widespread stench may have be a blessing in disguise: The manure fire had spread "dangerously close" to a valley full of dead trees and dry vegetation, the DEC revealed—and thanks to complaints from townspeople, officials were able to contain it before it grew any larger.

Spontaneous manure combustion sounds bizarre, but can be explained by science, and is more common than you'd think. When the poo decomposes, microorganisms inside it generate heat, Listverse points out. If the manure grows hot enough, it can suddenly catch on fire. In 2009, a giant manure fire in California ravaged 6000 acres of land, and in 2005, a 2000-ton pile of cow manure combusted in Nebraska, and blazed for months because firefighters couldn't extinguish it without creating contaminated run-off. 

[h/t Associated Press]