Dry Field Conditions Increase Harvest Fire Risks


Harvest is a prime time for fire dangers, especially with the extremely warm, dry conditions. Fuel sources such as leaves, stalks, husks, dust, oil and fuel are always present when harvesting fields, and so are numerous sources of ignition on farm equipment or transport vehicles including exhaust, bearings and electrical wiring.

 Fire safety in the field has two key components --  prevention and preparation in case a fire does break out. The following steps will help in preventing a combine fire:

 Electrical systems:

· Keep wiring and fuses in proper operating condition and position.

· Properly route and insulate all replacement wires.

· Use heat-resistant insulation.

 Fuel systems:

· Regularly inspect fuel lines.

· Keep fuel lines in good condition with tight connections.

· When refueling, always shut off the engine and let the equipment cool for 15 minutes before you refuel.

· Never fill the gasoline supply tank near an open flame, while smoking, or with the engine running.

· Wipe up oil and fuel spills as they occur. This prevents chaff and trash from collecting and combining to start a fire.


Mechanical operation:

· Use a pressure washer or a compressed air blowgun to thoroughly clean the machine.

· Remove excess crop residue from rotating units.

· Always inspect the machine for buildup of harvest materials (chaff and leaves) before operation.

· Keep your work area clean.

· Check lubricant levels often, and grease fittings regularly. Fix leaking oil, fuel, or hydraulic lines promptly. Check belts for proper tension and wear to reduce friction.

· Carefully check bearings for excessive heat. Overheated bearings are a major cause of combine fires.

· Check valve covers for oil leaks that can ignite as oil runs down manifolds.

· Check for cracked or loose exhaust pipes, ports and check the manifold.

· Pay particular attention to the exhaust system, checking for leaks, damage, or an accumulation of crop residue.

In the field:

· Put out any fire immediately.

· Always have a fire extinguisher within reach.

· Keep at least one fully charged 10-lb. ABC fire extinguisher on all equipment. (Or carry two: one10-lb. ABC fire extinguisher in the cab and one 20-lb. ABC fire extinguisher where it can be reached from the ground.)

· Visually check your extinguishers monthly, looking for cracks in the hose and inspecting the gauge to see if the extinguisher is fully charged.

· Invert the extinguishers once or twice a season and shake them to ensure that powder inside the extinguisher hasn't compacted by machine vibrations.

· Have a professional fire extinguisher company inspect your fire extinguishers annually.

· Have a shovel available to scoop dirt onto a fire.

· Carry your cell phone or two-way radio with you at all times so you can summon help.

· If a fire does occur, CALL 911 FIRST, and then attempt to extinguish the fire by pulling the pin on the fire extinguisher and squeezing the handles together. Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire and sweep from side to side. Remember P.A.S.S., which stands for Pull, Aim, Squeeze, Sweep.

 In addition to the combine, grain transport or pickup trucks with exhaust systems below the chassis also can ignite field fires. Catalytic converters operate at several hundred degrees. Field fires are sometimes started with the passing of a truck, and flames may not be noticed for 15 to 30 minutes.  It's a good idea to not allow extra truck traffic through the field when conditions for fire are favorable.

 One should remain vigilant throughout this potentially extremely warm, dry harvest season.

 Source: Kent Shannon, MU Extension Agricultural Engineer