TWO loud explosions woke the owners of Big River Dairy, Jo and Rod Madden, some time between 2am and 3am this morning as a large shed packed with barley and lucerne bales became engulfed in flames.

"I thought there'd been an accident on the highway so I checked out my bedroom window and didn't see anything.

"Then I looked towards the dairy and saw a big glow in the sky," Mr Madden said.

"The first copper who got here said he could see the glow from town - it went off like a rocket."

The couple managed to move a tractor and baler from the shed and about 43 calves in a neighbouring shed were moved, but several pieces of farming equipment were destroyed.

Mr Madden said his 20 years experience as a firefighter allowed him to take control of the situation.

"I got the hose, turned on the pump and started protecting what I had left until the fire brigade got here."

The police officer who arrived at the scene was also handed a hose to help.

Lawrence Rural Fire Service arrived at the Southgate property about 3.10am to find the shed well alight and brought it under control with the help of Mr Madden and two other brigades - Gulmarrad and Grafton.

When The Examiner arrived about 9am RFS members were still hard at work hosing the smouldering wreckage.

Volunteers estimated they could be on scene all day to be sure the fire would not re-ignite.

Mr Madden, who remained busy with the farm's morning milking schedule, also helped out with the fire-fighting efforts by clearing obstructions and digging out layers of hay with his excavator.

While this allowed fire fighters to access smouldering ash deep in the hay stack, it also gave the fire new fuel to burn.

Captain of the Lawrence brigade Neil Thompson said by 9.15am a 75,000-litre fire tanker had been emptied and water was being drawn from a nearby creek.

He said Country Energy had arrived to disconnect power to the shed.

"The owner's been slowly pulling it apart and demolishing the shed," Mr Thompson said.

"The shed was packed with hay and as you can see it's still smouldering. The shed's very dangerous to go in there and do anything with, so we're pulling the hay out slowly, dousing it out, demolishing the shed to get to the hay ... it's going to be a long, drawn-out process."

Though an official cause of the fire had not been determined, hay and other stock feed are known to spontaneously combust due to the heat generated from bacterial fermentation.

Mr Madden said the farm-grown barley bales (1100 of them) had very low moisture content (about 9%) but some 200 large lucerne bales purchased in recent weeks appeared to have higher moisture content.

"I think that's where the problem came from," he said.

At 12.30pm Mr Madden said the fire was still smouldering, aided by gusty winds.

"We're getting somewhere now but I wish the wind would just p... off," he said.

He estimated the damage bill would be about $200,000 and was hoping most of it would be covered by insurance.

Asked if he found it difficult tearing down his own shed, Mr Madden was stoic.

"We've been kicked in the guts that many times in recent years, you don't look at it like that, you just got a job to do and you do it," he said.

Mrs Madden said the farm had endured two major floods (2009, 2011), about four minor floods, hail storms (which severely damaged every roof on the farm in April), army grubs which destroyed crops days before harvest and the washing away of a $100,000 bridge over Alumny Creek.

"I must have killed a busload of Chinamen," she said.


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