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Preventing Combine Fires


As harvest approaches, remember these six easy steps to reduce your risk for costly and damaging fires.

Combine fires are a major source of loss to farmers - together, combine and tractor fires cause more than $10 million in property losses each year and millions more due to lost time and downed crops, according to Successful Farming magazine.

A study at Purdue University found that property damage from combine fires averages from $10,000 to $12,000 for each incident. In addition to the property damage to the combine itself, farmers reported more than eight days of loss of productive field time in 30 percent of the fires studied. There is also a danger of personal injury, even death.

Fires can be caused by a number of factors, but growers who follow a few simple maintenance steps can greatly reduce their risk of a fire. If a fire does occur, following certain emergency procedures can limit damage to machines and crops and reduce the chance of personal injury.

Causes of combine fires

Not surprisingly, studies show that combine fires occur most frequently during the months of October and November (peak corn harvest season). The majority occur during late afternoon or early evening hours; the risk of fire increases in warmer afternoon temperatures, drier conditions and the buildup of crop residue during a day of combining.

The accumulation of crop residue is one of the most frequent causes of fires. Liquid engine fuel is a frequent fuel source for these fires, and exhaust heat, hot engine sources, electrical sparks and friction can all be the source of ignition.

Fire prevention

Fortunately, combine operators can take a number of steps to reduce the risk of a costly combine fire.

  • Keep it clean. Clean the engine compartment and exhaust at least once a day; in periods of heavier operation, more frequent cleaning may be needed. Use compressed air to clean out the chaff and dust and a high-pressure washer to clean caked-on grease, oil and hydraulic fluids. Taking away potential fuel reduces the risk.
  • Be on the lookout. Conduct an inspection each day before beginning combining. During this inspection, pay attention to hoses, fuel lines, belts, fittings and wiring. If any are leaking, cracked or otherwise damaged, replace the part.
  • Electrical safety. Don't bypass overload protection such as fuses and circuit breakers. Frequently inspect wiring and switches for any unsafe conditions in the combine's electrical system and reduce sources for fire ignition.
  • Proper maintenance. Since vibration and friction can create heat and potential ignition sources, take steps to minimize these exposures. Follow manufacturers' recommended maintenance and lubrication schedules.
  • Keep your cool. If the cooling system is not properly maintained, the engine can run hot and increase the risk of ignition. Cleaning crop residue from this system will help ensure proper operation.
  • Fueling safety. Extinguish any open flames before fueling the machine, and thoroughly clean any fuel spills before starting the engine.

Fire extinguishers

Because fuel sources for combine fires can be crop residue, oil buildup or an electrical spark, a multipurpose extinguisher is required to meet type A (crop residue), type B (fuel oil), and type C (electrical) fires. "ABC" extinguishers that contain either Halon 1211 or monoammonium phosphate have been found to be the most effective.

Equip all combines with at least one 10-pound ABC fire extinguisher. Two is preferable. If two are used, mount one in the cab; the other should be in an easily accessible location so if the cab is on fire, an extinguisher is still available.

If fire breaks out…

If you suspect a fire has started, drive the combine to a spot away from the crops to minimize the risk of crop damage. Turn off the engine before using the fire extinguisher; if the engine is running, the fan could blow the extinguishing agents away from the fire.

Observe the combine for a period of time after the fire is out. A study has shown that 67 percent of combine fires are not fully extinguished and a reflash can occur.

Keep a cell phone handy. Combine fires frequently occur in isolated locations. A cell phone will enable you to call for help and get a fire department to respond more quickly, reducing the damage.

Special Member Savings

At Southern States®, we are proud to be one of the nation's largest farmer-owned cooperatives. Southern States has partnered with Nationwide® Agribusiness Insurance to offer Southern States Cooperative member-producers in North Carolina and Virginia special discounts on insurance. In addition to giving you exclusive insurance savings, we're also joining forces to support the cooperative that means so much to you.

Nationwide® Agribusiness is the number 1 insurer of farms in the U.S. and a leading insurer of commercial agribusiness. Go to southernstatesnwag.com to find a local agent.


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