Throughout the harvest season of 2015 there were a rash of combine fires in farms all over the US. With such a rise in fires caused by one specific type of machinery, one would assume that they’re suffering some sort of defect and in need of a recall. However, the primary cause of combine fires can be traced back to their owners not performing the routine maintenance and cleaning necessary to ensure their safety and the safety of their crops.
While this machine has revolutionized grain farming, making harvesting a breeze, they can end up costing you so much more. Each year, combine fires cause roughly 40 to 50 serious injuries, over $20 million in property losses and millions more due to lost work hours and damaged crops.
The likeliness of a combine harvester catching fire is increased as temperatures rise. And with 2015 eclipsing the previous record for hottest year to date, a title formerly held by the year 2014, it’s no wonder there has been an increased outbreak. To create a combine fire all you need is air, flammable materials such as the chaff that combines separate from the grains, and a heat source like the engine, where 75% of all combine fires start.
Since there’s not a whole lot we can do about the air, combine fire prevention focuses on clearing debris and diligent engine maintenance. To avoid seeing your harvest go up in smoke, here are a few guidelines to follow:
- Remove the debris. Debris like leaves, chaff and other plant materials can collect all over the combine, sometimes even wrapping around the bearings, belt and other moving parts. These flammable materials are usually the culprits behind most combine fires, coming in contact with the exhaust and then igniting. Prior to every use, clear the machine of all debris using pressurized air.
- Clean the engine. Before you start your combine up, check the engine for caked on grease, oil and crop residue. If there’s any, use an air hose or pressure washer to remove it. A clean engine runs cooler and more efficiently, greatly reducing the risk of fire.
- Perform routine maintenance. You should always stay up to date on maintenance according to the owner’s manual of your model. In addition to that, when you do your daily checks before starting up the engine, pay special attention to the exhaust system, oil or fuel lines, fittings and metal lines, checking them for any signs of a leak. If anything is leaking, replace or repair it immediately before using the machine. Be sure to also check your oil and coolant levels daily.
- Have a plan in case of fire. Even if you do everything right, sometimes a combine fire is unavoidable. That’s why you should always have at least one 10lb ABC fire extinguisher, capable of putting out fires involving wood, gas or electricity. Ideally, you’d want to have one 10lb extinguisher with you in the cab and a 20lb ABC extinguisher at ground level on the combine. If a fire breaks out, turn off the engine, exit the cab and call 9-1-1 before reaching for the fire extinguisher. To make sure you won’t be caught in a fire with a defective extinguisher, inspect it monthly for signs of damage and make sure they’re fully charged. You should also have your fire extinguisher checked once a year by a certified professional to ensure everything is in proper working order.
Time is money, especially in the agriculture industry. But with just a few extra minutes a day, you can prevent a potentially devastating loss.