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Hot, dry conditions are perfect to spark combine fires; be prepared
 
By Celeste Baumgartner
Ohio Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The hot, dry conditions in the Midwest over the past few weeks have caused wheat fields to mature early. Those same conditions brought about prime conditions for combine and field fires.
Two suggestions for preventing injuries and property damage include preventative maintenance and having a safety plan, according to Dee Jepsen, The Ohio State University’s aricultural safety and health specialist, and Wayne Dellinger, OSU agriculture and natural resources educator in Union County.
Ohio ranks fourth in the nation for combine fires. Minnesota ranks first, followed by Iowa (2nd), Illinois (3rd), Kansas (5th), Nebraska (6th) and South Dakota (7th), according to National Fire Incident Reporting System (2000 – 2018), a national database coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“This latest heat wave across the country in the last weeks, and we are heading into those same conditions again – consistent 90-degree days, low humidity, very little dew on the ground in the morning; I know that there were people out baling straw until 10:30 and 11 at night just because they could,” Jepsen said. “The conditions continued to be dry for harvesting and straw baling activities.”
The necessary ingredients for fire – a heat source, some flammable material, and air – make up the fire triangle, Jepsen said. Most combine fires start in the engine compartment. Contributing factors for heat sources include faulty wiring, overheated bearings, leaking fuel, or hydraulic oil. Dry crop residue makes a ready source for rapid combustion to occur.
“I like to stress that farmers blow off the combines at the end of the day versus the morning,” Dellinger said. “I know it is common practice. If they get out there first thing in the morning, as they’re waiting for the dew to burn off the crops, to go ahead and do it then.
“But doing it at night serves a couple of purposes,” he explained. “One is that it gets all the chaff and the debris off the combine. If there were combustible materials on it, if it is dark outside you can also maybe catch some areas that might be smoldering with a glow, either chaff on a hot bearing is easier to spot at the end of the day.”
Farmers can also mount a chain on the bottom of the machine to drag on the ground to eliminate static electricity, Jepsen said. That has been recommended for many years but some of the newer equipment does not have that much metal. It depends on the make and model of the equipment.
It is recommended that producers have two ABC fire extinguishers mounted on the combine, Jepsen said. One should be near the operator’s station.
“The primary reason we say that is so that the operator can have an extinguisher to get out of the operator’s platform, and another mounted on the back,” Jepsen said. “But those are only for small, incipient fires, at the initial stages of a fire. They are not good for when the whole combine is engulfed in flames.”
Driving a combine can get a little monotonous but it is a good time to think, a good time to play the game “what if,” Dellinger said.
“What if a fire happens and I am in the middle of the field?” he said. “How am I going to attack that situation the best way possible? What if I get a call from the cart operator and they say that flames are shooting off the back of the combine?
“Sometimes the wind is blowing and the flames are shooting out the back, they’re not coming toward me so maybe I can try to get closer to the front of the field where emergency responders can better access it,” he said. “But the best thing is to just shut it down for your own safety. Unfortunately, it is one of the most expensive pieces of equipment that a farmer ever purchases and they hate to see it happen but you have to use some common sense also.
If there is a fire and a farmer has to call 911, how do they describe where they are? Knowing the farm’s coordinates would be good, Jepsen said. When doing emergency farmstead planning, knowing the coordinates and the nearest intersections with access to the fields is helpful.
“If you’re in a hurry and you need to tell someone where you are you may not be thinking clearly,” Jepsen said. “So thinking through these places for any emergency or medical situation is good. If you have these items written down, then that is part of your safety plan. It’s also a good idea for rental property or if someone is working for you short-term, having people know the locations in case of emergency is important.”
Hot dry weather is also a perfect setting for field fires, Dellinger said. If you think there is a risk of that and a farmer wants to be prepared, having a piece of tillage equipment hooked up to a tractor on standby is a good idea.
“You can get on that tractor and till the ground up around what is burning to reduce the spread of the fire before first responders can get there,” he said.
Also, be certain everyone who needs to, knows how to use a fire extinguisher. People may not know that they need to remove the pin and to aim at the base of the fire, not just aim sporadically, Jepson said.
“These are good practices for farm safety in general,” Jepsen said. “Barn fires are going to be similar; making sure you don’t have combustibles, don’t park hot equipment in barns. When you set down the equipment at the end of the day, look for hot spots, and be mindful of where you park, not over a pile of hay or straw.”

7/3/2024