POST FALLS - As Fran Hughes watched his large haystack burn on Monday afternoon, the farmer's thoughts quickly turned to how the loss could be much worse.
"I'm not in central Washington watching my house burn down right now," said Hughes, referring to last weekend's devastation in that state.
Monday's fire east of Pleasantview Road and south of Highway 53 between Post Falls and Hauser destroyed the pile, estimated by firefighters to be 200 feet long and 15 feet high.
Firefighters believe a piece of equipment may have started the blaze around 2 p.m. It was reported by Hughes and firefighters to have started on top of the stack.
Hughes, who was in the process of stacking the hay, said it was unclear to him how the fire started.
"I don't know the source of ignition, but it wasn't wet hay," he said.
Hughes declined to estimate the total amount of damage because firefighters were still tending to the fire and he hadn't had a chance to measure the size of the stack.
Kootenai County Fire and Rescue Division Chief Bill Keeley said the estimated damage is in the tens of thousands of dollars, but didn't have a more precise number.
Triticale hay prices in large squares - like what burned Monday - are in the $130- to $150-per-ton range.
Keeley said Hughes reported that he was stacking hay, and when he returned with another load, he noticed the fire.
"By the time we got here, the whole stack was on fire," Keeley said. "There wasn't much we could do with it other than make sure that it burns out and doesn't spread. It would take a lot of water and be next to impossible to put the fire completely out."
Haystack fires can take a long time to burn completely. Well more than an hour after the fire started, the size of the stack hadn't decreased much.
Keeley estimated it could take as long as 48 hours to finish burning.
Fire crews from KCFR, Northern Lakes, the Idaho Department of Lands and Hauser Lake were able to prevent the fire from spreading much beyond the stack, despite dry and initially windy conditions.
After firefighters responded, the winds died down, which helped with keeping the blaze in check, Keeley said.
"A pumphouse on the east side of the field was our initial concern because of wind blowing out of the west," Keeley said.
Beehives and Kootenai Electric Cooperative power lines were also in the vicinity.
"Kootenai Electric felt fairly confident that there was not enough heat to affect their power poles," Keeley said.
Firefighters planned to cut a line in the ground around the haystack as a precaution to prevent the fire from spreading, and planned to spend the night on scene in case the blaze rekindled.