With the hot, dry weather conditions plaguing the fall grain harvest throughout much of Iowa, many field, combine and tractor fires have been reported - some resulting in extensive property loss and personal injury.
For farmers, major precautions include beginning every harvest season with a clean machine. Pay special attention to the engine and engine compartment, since about 75% of all machinery fires start in that area. Use a pressure washer to remove all caked-on grease, oil, and crop residue. A clean engine will run cooler, operate more efficiently, and greatly reduce your chance for fire.
After starting the season, make sure you frequently blow any dry chaff, leaves, and other material off the machine with compressed air. Also, clear off any wrapped plant materials on bearings, belts, and other moving parts.
Pay close attention to your machine operator's manual and follow all instructions and schedules for lubrication and routine maintenance. If you notice any leaking fuel or oil hoses, fittings, or metal lines, make sure to replace or repair them immediately!
Combine and tractor fires can be caused by several heat sources. The most common is exhaust system surfaces that contact any flammable material. Make sure your exhaust system including the manifold, muffler, and turbocharger are in good condition and free of leaks.
When checking your oil and performing other daily maintenance, quickly scan any exposed electrical wiring for damage or signs of deterioration. If you are blowing fuses, or have a circuit that intermittently cuts out, it's a good sign that there's a short or loose connection in the system.
Also keep an eye out for worn bearings, belts, and chains. A badly worn bearing can glow red-hot. Any rubber belt subjected to intense heat from a worn part can burst into flames.
Despite your best intentions and good maintenance, a fire on a tractor or combine can still occur. Your best source of protection for a combine is at least one fully charged ten-pound ABC dry chemical fire extinguisher. A five-pound unit is recommended for tractors. Select only extinguishers with an Underwriter's Laboratory approval. Having two extinguishers on the machine is even better in case one malfunctions or loses pressure. Keep one mounted in the cab, and one where it can be reached from the ground.
Check your extinguishers periodically, paying special attention to the pressure gauge. To function effectively, the gauge must show adequate pressure to expel the powder inside.
If a fire does break out on a machine you're operating, quickly shut off the engine, grab your extinguisher, get out, and get help. If you forget to grab the extinguisher, don't go back in after it unless the fire is extremely small or confined to an area well away from the cab.
Having a cellular phone or two-way radio nearby will help get professional assistance to the field more quickly.
Approach any fire with extreme caution. Even a small fire can flare up dramatically as you open doors, hatches, or other areas to gain access. These types of fires are especially dangerous when liquid fuels are involved. If possible, use the extinguisher's flexible hose to shoot the chemical from a safe distance at the base of any flames you see. Continue to blanket flames to allow the fire to cool and prevent a reflash.
Remember that it may not be possible to put out every fire. If it's in a difficult-to-reach area or seems out of control, don't risk the chance of injury or even death... wait for help to arrive.