Practice fire safety during harvest

Tony Nye - OSU Extension

Isn’t it fitting that this year continues to be a crazy and wacky weather year.

The record heat along with very dry conditions we have experienced recently have moved our crop along much faster than one would have guessed five or six weeks ago. This weekend’s cooler temperatures will be a welcomed relief to us all.

Harvest is moving along quickly, and even though yield reports are not as good in some cases as the last few years, they are still respectable for the kind of planting and growing season we have had in 2019.

We have been very dry the last couple of months compared to some parts of Ohio and are on the verge of having the distinction of drought like conditions. These conditions have created a perfect storm for fall harvest fires, and producers should be aware of the risks.

Dee Jepsen, State Leader for the OSU Extension Agricultural Safety & Health Program, warns that 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. Jepsen notes 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 two 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 one 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.

Tony Nye is the state coordinator for the Ohio State University Extension Small Farm Program and has been an OSU Extension Educator for agriculture and natural resources for over 30 years, currently serving Clinton County and the Miami Valley EERA.

Tony Nye

OSU Extension