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Arson blamed for hay stack fires near Mabton

MABTON - Nearly 200 bales of alfalfa hay continues to burn in Mabton today following two arson fires early Thursday morning.

The hay stacks were consumed in two separate fires. District 5 firefighters responded to the first hay fire call involving 156 bales at the corner of Holt and Colwash roads.

Even as firefighters responded to that fire, arsonists set a second hay stack fire involving 40 bales over at the corner of Tomo Pike and Varner roads.

All of the hay bales were owned by Mabton hay farmer Tony Harris, according to District 5 deputy chief Allen Walker. Walker estimates that each bale weighed in at 1,500 pounds and that the hay was valued at approximately $150 to $170 per ton.

"It was top quality alfalfa hay," Walker said.

Natural causes for the fire were ruled out because the bales were first cutting hay that started burning from the outside.

"The hay had been there two months so spontaneous combustion is out of the question," Walker explained. "There were no power lines nearby, they were just sitting out in the middle of a field."

Walker noted that Thursday's fires are similar to a hay fire that was set four years ago in the same area of Mabton. That incident only turned up a small amount of evidence, he added.

Firefighters cleared the area immediately around the fires to prevent the flames from spreading and allowed the hay to burn. Walker figures the burn will continue for "a couple days more".

He explained that allowing the hay to burn is better for the farmer. "It's better for the farmer to let it burn," Walker noted. "There's no value once it's blackened and charred."

Walker added that the continued burn is safer for firefighters because of unburned gasses that are involved in a hay fire.

The fire remains under investigation as an arson. The Yakima County Sheriff's office said there was a suspicious vehicle at the scene described as a red Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck.

Walker is asking for the public's assistance and watchful eye in taking note of suspicious activities during the Valley's long, dry summer.

"I'd like for our public to be more observant," he said. "Any kind of lead would help us tremendously."

Suspicious fire activity can be phoned into 911, to city fire departments for residents in town or to District 5 at 865-4202 for residents in unincorporated Yakima County.

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