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wood piles

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Good morning all:
We have a local job that has a 1930's school building being demolished prior to a new one being built.  The concrete foundations were placed on wood piles. We have seen the tops of these piles rotting due to a water table level being just below the tops of the pile. In some cases the wood is a "pile" of powder.  With these piles the top has rotted above the soil level with the part below top of soil looking as good as new. I can't determine the species but appears to be some type of softwood. The odd part though is that when the piles have been pulled out and left sitting around they are slowly exploding?? It is not a matter of them freezing. The only explanation thus far is that the piles are completely saturated and were under triaxial stress. Now the confining pressure has been removed they seem to be slowly expanding and exploding as if the tops have been bashed with a sledge hammer. Has anyone seen this before and is this the reason for this type of action?
Dave Handy. P.Eng.