Minimize Fire Risk This Harvest

Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
A functioning fire extinguisher should be in the cab of every harvest vehicle this fall. It can save lives and expense. (DTN/The Progressive Farmer photo by Pamela Smith)

The threat of fire when you using farm machinery -- whether it be a round baler or a combine -- is very real. If you have ever spent much time around farm equipment, you probably have stories of fires or some close calls.

When I was kid, my dad was baling hay with his Gehl round baler and a bearing went out. The bale started to smolder after some of the hay came in contact with the hot bearing. Luckily, he realized what was going on and kicked the bale out. Just the bale burned, not the baler.

And just a few years ago we had a brake on our way-less-than-new combine get hot and nearly ignite the crop material sitting on top of the brake housing. Again, luckily we noticed it was beginning to smolder and had to use the fire extinguisher which has been riding around in the cab of combine for many years.

In a recent press release, the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) reminds farmers to carefully follow proper safety procedures that minimize the possibility of combine or machinery fires. NCGA wants farmers to realize combustible material such as leaves, stalks, husks, dust, oil and fuel come into constant contact with potential sources of ignition from farm equipment exhaust, bearings and electrical wiring. That creates an ever-present fire risk.

"Equipment fires are not only dangerous but are often extremely costly for farmers," said NCGA president Chip Bowling, a Maryland farmer. "During this busy season, a fire can halt harvest work in an instant causing property damage and consuming valuable time. Building risk management practices into your harvest schedule could end up saving both time and money."

NCGA has several recommendations to minimize fire risks with farm machinery.

First, try to keep farm equipment clean, particularly the engine compartment as 75% of all machinery fires start there. Cleaning the equipment with either a pressure washer or high pressure air will allow the machine to operate more efficiently and will greatly reduce the risk of a fire.

Once the equipment is clean, make sure it stays clean. Frequently blow dry chaff, leaves or other material off of the machine with compressed air or a portable leaf blower.

NCGA recommends checking engine fluid levels at the beginning of the day, particularly coolant and oil levels in all equipment that will be used. While doing this, look for any possible leaking fuel or oil hoses, fittings or metal lines. Should a leak be found, repair it right away.

Check the exhaust system as surfaces containing flammable material ignite fires in this fashion.

An arcing electrical wire can generate extremely high temperatures in farm machinery. Replace any worn or malfunctioning components.

Much like damaged wiring, worn bearings can reach high temperatures, which can cause any rubber belt coming into contact with this intense heat to ignite. Look for worn bearings, belts and chains frequently.

Farm equipment fires can still occur despite the most vigilant care. It is important that each machine carry a working, fully charged fire extinguisher, NCGA said.

Should a fire break out while you are operating a machine, shut off the engine, grab the extinguisher and exit the vehicle immediately. Using the flexible hose on the extinguisher, spray the base of any visible flames continuously to cool the fire and prevent a re-flash until help arrives.

It is important to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle at all times if a fire does occur.

Alert your local fire department for assistance.

Russ Quinn can be reached at

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Russ Quinn