With some parts of the country reporting extremely dry conditions this harvest, the National Corn Growers Association reminds farmers to carefully follow proper safety procedures that minimize the possibility of a combine or tractor fire. Even if the weather has not been warm and dry, fuel sources such as leaves, stalks, husks, dust, oil and fuel come into constant contact with potential sources of ignition from farm equipment, such as exhaust, bearings and electrical wiring presenting 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 who has seen dry conditions firsthand. “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.”
First, keep farm equipment clean, particularly the engine compartment as 75 percent of all machinery fires start there. Using either a pressure washer or high pressure air, remove all caked-on grease, oil and crop residue. Cleaning the engine thoroughly will allow it to run cooler, operate more efficiently and will greatly reduce the risk of a fire.
Once the equipment has been cleaned, make sure to keep it clean. Frequently blow dry chaff, leaves or other material off of the machine with compressed air or a portable leaf blower. Then, remove wrapped plant materials on or near bearings, belts and any other moving parts.
At the beginning of each day, check engine fluid levels, particularly coolant and oil levels, in all equipment that will be used. While doing so, look for any possible leaking fuel or oil hoses, fittings or metal lines. Often, areas that may rub from wear, such as the pressurized oil supply line, may breach causing an oil leak. Should a leak be found, repair it immediately.
Next, eliminate heat sources that could increase fire risk. Most commonly, exhaust system surfaces containing flammable material ignite fires in this fashion. To minimize this risk, check to ensure the exhaust system, including the manifold, muffler and turbocharger, are in good condition and free of leaks. Again, should damage be found, repair it immediately.
As arcing electrical wires generate extremely high temperatures in farm machinery, make sure to scan for signs of wiring damage or deterioration daily. Replace any worn or malfunctioning components properly. Notably, frequently blowing fuses or intermittent circuit disruptions often signal a short or loose connection in that system.
Much like damaged wiring, worn bearings can also reach extremely high temperatures which can cause any rubber belt coming into contact with this intense heat to ignite. Make sure to inspect for worn bearings, belts and chains frequently.
Despite the most vigilant care, farm equipment fires can still occur. It is essential that each machine carries a working, fully charged fire extinguisher mounted in the cab and still within reach from the ground.
Should a fire break out while you are operating a machine, shut off the engine, grab the extinguisher and immediately exit the vehicle. Then, use either a cellular phone or two-way radio to signal that professional assistance is required as quickly as possible.
As fires are dangerous, flaring up dramatically if doors, hatches or other entry points are opened, it is crucial to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle at all times. Using the flexible hose on the extinguisher, spray the base of any visible flames continuously to cool the fire and prevent a reflash until help arrives.
For additional information about possible fire containment measures, please contact local fire safety officials.