Prevention is Key to Avoiding Harvest Fires

Guest Blog post by Mark Hanna,
ISU Extension agricultural engineer with responsibilities in field machinery

Extremely warm, dry and windy harvest conditions in 2011 were credited for the above-average number of combine and field fires we experienced last fall. Hot, dry conditions all summer long – plus the likelihood of warmer than normal temperatures at harvest time due to an early harvest – mean even more sparks could ignite during the 2012 harvest season.

Prevention is a key to avoid personal and property damage.

  • Keep the machine clean, particularly around the engine and engine compartment. Use a high pressure washer or compressed air to remove caked-on oil, grease and crop residue.
  • Check coolant and oil levels daily.
  • Check the pressurized oil supply line to the turbocharger for wear areas that rub and may start an oil leak.
  • Frequently blow leaves, chaff and plant material from the engine area with compressed air or a portable leaf blower. Remove plant materials wrapped on or near bearings, belts or other moving parts.
  • Examine exhaust or hot bearing surfaces. Repair leaking fuel or oil hoses, fittings or metal lines immediately.
  • Inspect and clean ledges or recessed areas near fuel tanks and lines.

Preparation is also key. Carry these items with you during harvest:

  • Cell phone to call the fire department (911).
  • Two ABC-type fire extinguishers: a smaller 10-pound unit in the cab and a larger 20-pound extinguisher at ground level on the combine.
  • A shovel to throw dirt on small flames.

Since fires can start from plant materials that have smoldered unnoticed for 15 to 30 minutes or more, it just takes a gust of wind to literally blow it out of control. Hanna advises farmers to discuss a plan for emergency tillage in the event of a fire break, so harvest crews know what to do should the need arise. Remember, personal safety is more important than harvest loss.

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