Manure Pile Spontaneously Combusts at Windsor Goat Farm

By Maggie Cassidy
Valley News Staff Writer

Windsor — At the municipal offices downtown, Police Chief Stephen Soares compared the stench wafting through Windsor Wednesday to the smell of “burning rubbish.”

Town Manager Tom Marsh said it evoked “a damp kind of burning leaves or brush fire.” And at least one person thought it smelled like bacon.

Alas, a town official says the cause was something less redolent: A giant pile of goat manure spontaneously combusted at a Route 5 goat farm early Wednesday morning, they said, erupting into small flames and emitting a scent that both perplexed and amused people.

“(I)t was a little disconcerting because it was a very strong smell,” said Marsh, who said the aura was easily detectable at his home high on a hill, about five miles from the farm. “It wasn’t like a whiff of something.”

The pile of manure — about 20 feet deep and consisting of roughly 120 cubic yards of goat manure — ignited in the early morning hours Wednesday at Oak Knoll Dairy south of town, said George Redick, who owns and manages the 800-goat farm with his wife, Karen Lindbo.

The manure pile, nestled in an embankment, would typically have been spread around the farm earlier in the year, but the rainy season and other factors prevented that from happening, Redick 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.”

A worker discovered the small fire around 3 a.m. Wednesday morning when she went to milk the goats, Redick said. Redick and others doused the flames with a hose, but the pile continued smoking and smoldering. 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.

Marsh, the town manager, said he initially 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.

Messages left for Kirko at the Windsor Fire Department yesterday were not returned.

The incident led to a peculiar posting on the “Windsor, Birthplace of Vermont” Facebook page — which Marsh administrates — 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.”

By late Wednesday afternoon, much of the smell had dissipated from the streets of downtown Windsor. But behind the counter at the Windsor Diner on Main Street, Lisa Nugent said she smelled the stench when she woke up around 6 a.m.

Another Windsor resident, Sarah Knox, smelled it when she drove by the farm around 10 a.m., and described the scent as “gaggifying.”

Several Facebook users said they woke up in the middle of the night concerned about 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.”

Another person agreed: “I thought it was burnt bacon!” she said.

Marsh said a typical post to the Windsor Facebook page gets between 400 and 500 views. By Wednesday afternoon, though, the goat manure post had already piled up more than 2,500 views — and there were more by the minute.

“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.

Redick took 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 was securely embedded in the embankment, the fire was prevented from spreading, he said.

Firefighters were on the scene off and on yesterday, using fire-retarding foam to smother the manure.

“It’s not a danger to the buildings or anything,” Redick said, “but it’s fairly annoying.”