High-temperatures add even more fire risk. In seconds a small blaze can grow well-beyond the capacity of any fire extinguisher normally found on a combine.
Twenty-five or more years ago my brother and uncle nearly burned up a 2-row mounted corn picker when a snapping roll bearing went out. Pieces of the red-hot bearing popped out of the retainer, nestled in corn leaves that had collected in the picker, igniting a blaze.
That story illustrates two moves farmers can make. One, keep crop residue from accumulating anywhere near anything that might get hot. Two, listen for strange bearing noises. If you hear any, closely investigate.
In 2007, I visited a cotton grower in the western part of Brazil's state of Bahia. He had a custom crew running a 4-row spindle picker. Along side the picker drove a utility tractor towing a 500 gallon or so tank wagon, with rider manning a hose. "That's our picker fire extinguisher," the grower said.
A bit extreme? Maybe. But the nearest fire department of any size was more than six hours away in Salvador, Bahia.
Sometimes farmers start fires on purpose. And obviously one wants to be fully aware of moisture, wind conditions and potential for the fire to get out of hand before striking the match.
In June, I was visiting a corn, soybean, sorghum and dry edible bean grower in the northern part of Brazil's state of Minas Gerais. As we drove from his office and grain storage and drying facilities we passed a field I'd say roughly 60 acres that was dotted with plastic mesh bags maybe 4 feet in diameter and four feet high.
Four times, as we passed the field, the grower told me that what we were seeing was not normal. That admonishment swayed me from taking pictures.
He proceeded to explain that the field of corn had lodged flat as a pancake.
Had that happened in this country, a product liability suit would have been filed or at least all of the input suppliers would have been brought to the field with ample effort to affix responsibility. And that may well have happened in the Brazilian case.
What about the bags? The grower said they picked a calm day, burned off the corn stover, then sent the crew out to pick up the corn and put it in the sacks. At the time I was there they still had two months left in the dry season to collect the sacks and run the corn through a corn sheller.