With harvest starting across much of eastern Washington, producers are hopeful for bountiful yields and a fair market price for their efforts. Unfortunately, things can quickly “go up in smoke” especially if there is a combine or equipment fire. In years past, there were multiple reports of combine fires, some small and some total losses (Fig 1.).
They say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” While preventative methods cannot 100% guarantee a fire will not erupt, they can and should be followed to reduce any potential hazards that arise during harvest operations.[row layout=”halves” ]The number one preventive method is to keep machinery clean. Crop residue and chaff can find their way into cracks and crevasses of machinery and can encounter heat/ignition sources. Therefore, it is important to power wash or use an air compressor to clean out and/or blow off and remove such materials.
Secondly, make sure the equipment is in proper running order. Worn bearings, over-tightened belts, exposed electrical wires, or leaky fuel lines can all contribute to a fire. It is also recommended to check coolant and oil levels daily. Make sure heat sources like the manifold, muffler, and turbocharger are properly working and free of leaks. A scan for any hot or smoldering spots should be done at the end of each day’s harvest.
All combines should have an easily accessible and fully charged 10-pound fire extinguisher inside the cab. A second 20-pound fire extinguisher can be mounted on the outside of the machine at ground level, while even a third can be back in the service truck/pickup truck or semi. A partially empty fire extinguisher should be refilled or replaced. And remember to check the pressure gauge. If the needle is still within the “green” zone, it is functional. One can also invert and/or shake the extinguishers to ensure that the powder inside the extinguisher has not become settled. A shovel is also a recommended tool to have.
If a fire does erupt and starts spreading within the field, act quickly and try and contain it. Having a disk drill or some form of tillage equipment nearby can be used to create a perimeter or barrier around the fire.