Drought Increases Risk of Machinery Fires

National Farm Safety and Health Week serves as a reminder to stay vigilant in the field.

Published on: Sep 21, 2012

The timely reminders offered by the return of National Farm Safety and Health week come just as many farmers begin full-fledged harvest – and though safety is always top-of-mind for many, drought has reinforced the importance of watching out for field and machinery fires.

Gail Deboy, a Purdue University Extension farm safety expert, says farmers can greatly reduce the risk of starting field fires with proper, regular maintenance of combines and other equipment used to harvest crops, and combines are especially vulnerable to fires because of the many hours they operate at a time and the dry crop fodder that can collect on them.

"During hot, dry weather, very dry fodder provides an excellent source to fuel a flame whenever a fire is ignited," he said.

National Farm Safety and Health Week serves as a reminder to stay vigilant in the field.
National Farm Safety and Health Week serves as a reminder to stay vigilant in the field.

This year's early planting resulted in early maturing of crops and unusually dry foliage during harvest. The exceptionally dry weather has led to numerous field fires in recent days, and many Indiana counties have imposed restrictions on burning.

Combine fires can easily spread to crops or remaining corn stover, rapidly igniting acres of farmland. Field fires can spread to nearby farm equipment, trees and buildings, including homes. Smoke from fires can create health problems for nearby residents and reduce visibility on roads.

Much of what causes machinery fires are overheated bearings and belts, exhaust components, clutches and brakes, electrical malfunctions and sparks caused by damaged or improperly adjusted components, and foreign material entering the processing path. Drive components clogged with crop material also can get hot enough to catch fire.

"As combines have become larger, they carry much larger quantities of fuel, lubricants and hydraulic oil," Deboy said. "Even small leaks in any of the systems using flammable liquids can result in a large fire in seconds."