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Fire Prevention and Safety Tips During Harvest

Posted by Blythe Howell | August 15, 2022

With harvest in full swing 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. Last year there were multiple reports of combine fires, some small and some total loses (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 the any potentials hazards that arise during harvest operations.

Combine Post Fire.
Fig 1. Combine fire while harvesting winter peas.

The number one preventive method is to keep machinery clean. Crop residue ad chaff can find their ways into cracks and crevasses of machinery and can come in contact with 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 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. A second 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 or tractor and wagon. Partially empty fire extinguisher should be refilled or replaced. Lastly, 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.

Lastly, pay close attention to the weather. Days that are forecast to have high temperatures, low humidity and high winds significantly increase the potential for fire danger. Only attempt to put out the fire only if you feel safe doing so. It is more important to put worker protection first before saving equipment which can always be replaced.

For questions or comments, contact Dale Whaley by email at or by phone at 509-745-8531.

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