Harvest and the dangers of farm equipment fires

Dawn Rye | Writer

With harvest in motion across most of the Midwest, things can quickly “go up in smoke,” especially with a combine or equipment fire in dry conditions. If a fire erupts and starts spreading within the field, act quickly and try to contain it.

The most common harvest fires have started with a fire within the combine itself.  Fire departments also get some fires that start at the road ditches and move into the fields.  These can be started by faulty vehicle equipment or by careless drivers.

Some tips to remember are to have a fully charged fire extinguisher on hand in all your farm vehicles.  Some of the response areas can be miles away from the nearest fire department. Fire extinguishers can buy the farmer and the fire department valuable time. However, a disc could starve the fire from spreading quickly—no matter what kind of fire or emergency, don’t hesitate to call 911. 

Why are fire precautions necessary for harvesting?

Even if the harvest fire is right at the edge of town, the volunteer fire departments still needs to wait for a crew and drive to the scene.  In that time, firefighters are at the mercy of the weather and fuels on-site.  If a fire extinguisher can initially knock down the fire, everyone will be better off. The dust from corn and beans is probably the biggest culprit to machinery catching on fire.  Try to clean the machines every chance you get and make sure you have a working fire extinguisher.

In what situation should a farmer not try to fight a field fire?

As far as a farmer fighting the fire, they would recommend emptying the extinguisher for equipment. Anything beyond that just gets too dangerous and adds to chaos on the scene.  If the farmer can safely drive the equipment away from the unharvested crop, that can also buy the firefighter’s time.  The department receives calls from farmers around the area with all types of fires. If it’s an equipment fire, they know the machine better than anyone and can help the department get different panels open to get the fire out.  He explained the department tries to utilize farmers’ discs to stop fires from spreading. There were numerous fires in the county last year that would have destroyed much more if farmers hadn’t been willing and able to help out.  

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