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Fire Safety During Harvest Season

Meteorologists would likely correct us if we referred to this year’s summer climate as bipolar. However, the early fall rain patterns seem to be completely different depending on where one stands in the state. It is either rain, and lots of it – or dry, on the verge of drought. So when readers see an article about fire safety for harvest season, it is intended for those encountering dry and windy conditions, whenever these conditions appear.

October and November are two months where fire is a particular concern. In agricultural areas, fires can break out during unseasonably warm temperatures. Fire risks are particularly a concern around fields with dry crop residues, near woodland areas, or within equipment with heated bearings, belts, and chains. There are several aspects to consider for fire prevention and fire protection during harvest season.

Preventing Combine Fires

Combines are at high risk of fire. Work crews should take extra precautions to prevent fires from starting.  

  • Park a hot combine away from out-buildings. Keeping a combine out of barns, shed, and away from other flammables is a common prevention strategy in case a hot spot ignites. Insurance claims can double when equipment fires are responsible for loss of farm structures.
  • Regular maintenance is priority. Check the machine daily for any overheated bearings or damage in the exhaust system. Keep the fittings greased. Maintain proper coolant and oil levels. Repair fuel or oil hoses, including fittings and metal lines, if they appear to leak.
  • Keep dried plant material from accumulating on the equipment. Frequently blow dry chaff, leaves and other crop materials that have accumulated on the equipment with a portable leaf blower or air compressor. Be sure to inspect the engine compartment and other areas where chaff accumulates around bearings, belts and other moving parts.
  • Maintain the electrical system. Pay attention to machine components that draw a heavy electrical load, such as starter motors and heating/cooling systems. Monitor circuits for any overloading, especially if fuses blow regularly. Keep wiring in good condition and replace frayed wiring or worn out connectors. 
  • Refuel a cool engine whenever possible. Never refuel a combine with the engine running. It is recommended to turn off the engine and wait 15 minutes; this helps to reduce the risk of a spill volatilizing and igniting.
  • Prevent static electricity while operating in a dry field. Use a ground chain attached to the combine frame to prevent static charges from igniting dry chaff and harvest residue, letting the chain drag on the ground while in the field.
  • Have 2 fully charged fire extinguishers on the combine. ABC fire extinguishers are recommended on farm machinery. In a combine, keep a 10-pound unit in the cab and a 20-pound unit mounted at ground level.
  • Have 1 fully charged fire extinguisher in the tractor, grain cart, and pickup truck. ABC fire extinguishers are recommended on farm machinery. These extinguishers are good for fires at incipient phases – meaning at the first sign of smoke or a small flame.

When a fire appears, it is important to put worker protection before saving equipment.   

  • Have an emergency plan in place and be sure all employees know the plan. Combine fires happen fast – be sure all employees know what to do if smoke or fire appears.
  • Turn off the engine. If in the combine cab, turn off the engine and exit the machine.
  • Call 911 before using the fire extinguishers. If the fire is in the cab, only use the 10-pound fire extinguisher from the outside of the cab – on the exterior platform. If the fire is on the ground, use caution when opening the engine compartment or other hatches as small fires can flare with extra air. Stay a safe distance away from the fire.   
  • Use a shovel on small field debris fires. Throwing dirt over burning field residue can stop a fire from spreading. However, stay back if the fire takes off.

Source: Ohio State University

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