Steps to Avoid Harvest Fire Hazards

Steps to Avoid Harvest Fire Hazards

August 30, 2012

NOAA FIre risk warning map

Critical Risk of Fire

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning indicating a critical fire risk for much of Nebraska on Thursday, Aug. 30 (pink area). The risk is expected to lessen on Friday. To view the current and forecasted fire hazard threat, check the NOAA Fire Weather Outlook or the NOAA Weather Warnings for your area.

While many areas of Nebraska received some rain the past couple of weeks, it wasn't enough to significantly reduce the extent of drought or fire hazard across the state. On Thursday the National Weather Service issued a red flag fire warning for almost all of Nebraska, indicating a high risk of fires. With an early harvest season just beginning, growers are encouraged to reduce their fire risk by cleaning and maintaining their equipment and being prepared in the event a fire does develop.

Identify and monitor potential hazards on the combine.
  • Do a "dry run" of the combine before entering the field to listen for worn bearings or moving parts and check for any over-heated bearings. Push/pull shafts and sheaves often to check for worn bearings.
  • Check wires and wiring harnesses for damaged insulation to prevent an electrical short. If you're having problems with blown fuses, try to find the source of the problem instead of constantly replacing the fuse. Exposed wires could be causing the short and creating sparks which could start a fire.
  • Never put in a fuse with higher capacity than those recommended as the wires may overheat and start a fire.
  • As harvest continues, those outside the combine should listen and watch for potential problems.
  • If you're using other equipment (grain cart or rotary mower) in the field during harvest, also keep an eye on it for possible problems.
Clean debris from your combine before and at regular intervals during harvest.
  • Clean any area where chaff or plant material accumulates often, especially those near moving parts. Check areas around the engine, exhaust manifold, fan shrouds, fuel/oil tanks, and chaff spreaders to ensure they are free of debris. Using a leaf blower or compressed air tank is an easy way to remove debris material that builds up on the combine.
  • Closely monitor any belts that are frayed or worn as they can produce enough heat to start a fire.
  • Any time you think you smell smoke, stop and examine the combine completely. Chaff and plant materials may smolder for some time before an actual fire starts, sometimes even after the combine has been shut down.
Take precautionary measures and be prepared to respond if a fire does occur.
  • When harvesting on windy days, if possible, start on the downwind side of the field. This way, in case a fire does occur, at least the wind will carry it away from the standing crop.
  • Consider carrying a water tank with a pump to the field and always keep a fire extinguisher handy.
  • Some growers keep a tractor with a tillage implement close by to till a fire break if necessary.
  • Most recommend keeping at least two fire extinguishers with the combine at harvest — one in the cab and one accessible from ground level. Check your fire extinguishers annually to ensure they are charged properly and always remember proper extinguisher use. Stand a few feet from the fire and aim at the base/source with a sweeping motion.

If a fire does occur, always remember that your personal safety is the most important thing. Don't put yourself or others in any unnecessary risk. Always call 911 as soon as you notice a fire, then try to put it out.

Joe Luck
Extension Precision Agriculture Engineer
Paul Jasa
Extension Engineer


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