Dry fields increase harvest fire risks

Monday, September 15, 2014

National Farm Safety and Health Week is Sept. 21-27.

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Dead leaves, stalks, husks, oil and fuel are never in short supply when harvest begins. They can ignite fires in fields, farm equipment, grain trucks and wagons.

As harvest season approaches, University of Missouri Extension specialist Kent Shannon reminds producers to think about prevention and preparation.

Shannon recommends checking fire extinguishers before harvest. Look for cracks in the hose and inspect the gauge to make sure it is properly charged. Once or twice a season, invert the extinguishers and shake them to loosen any powder inside that has been compacted by machine vibrations.

All equipment should carry at least one 10-pound, all-purpose dry chemical extinguisher. An extra 20-pound all-purpose extinguisher on the ground where it can be reached easily can provide extra protection.

If you have to use the extinguisher, remember "PASS," which stands for pull, aim, squeeze and sweep:

- Pull the pin on the extinguisher.

- Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire.

- Squeeze the handles together.

- Sweep from side to side.

Have a shovel handy to scoop dirt onto a fire, Shannon says. Carry one in the combine and in the grain truck. Carry a charged cellphone to alert emergency services.

Trucks with exhaust systems below the chassis also can ignite field fires. Catalytic converters operate at high temperatures. Field fires sometimes start when a truck travels through a field. Flames may not be noticed for 15 to 30 minutes, Shannon said. Avoid truck traffic in fields when conditions for a fire are favorable.

If there is a fire, call 911 before trying to put the fire out yourself.

Shannon offers the following fire prevention tips:

Electrical systems

- Keep wiring and fuses in proper operating condition and position.

- Properly route and insulate all replacement wires.

- Use heat-resistant insulation.

Fuel systems

- Regularly inspect fuel lines.

- Keep fuel lines in good condition with tight connections.

- Before refueling, always shut off the engine and let equipment cool for 15 minutes.

- Never fill the gas tank near an open flame, while smoking or with the engine running.

- Wipe up oil and fuel spills when they happen.

Mechanical operation

- Use a pressure washer or an air blow gun to thoroughly clean machines.

- Remove crop residue from rotating units.

- Always inspect machines for dry plant buildup before operation.

- Check lubricant levels often and grease fittings regularly.

- Fix leaking oil, fuel or hydraulic lines.

- Check belts for proper tension and wear to reduce friction.

- Check bearings for excessive heat. Overheated bearings are a major cause of combine fires.

- Check valve covers for oil leaks that can ignite as oil runs down manifolds.

- Check for cracked or loose exhaust pipes and ports and check the manifold.

- Look for leaks, damage or crop residue buildup on the exhaust system.

Contact Linda Geist at 573-882-9185 or GeistLi@missouri.edu