Ever have your combine burn up? The Montana Farm Bureau is urging everyone combining crops and baling hay to be extremely cautious this harvest season due to extremely dry conditions and high fire danger. Often the person driving the combine or pulling the baler can’t see what’s happening directly behind. By the time they notice a fire, it may be too late to save the equipment and the field.
“We had one fire started by the sickle on our mowing machine. In another instance, we had had work done to a tractor’s engine, and an hour and a half into it pulling the baler, it caught on fire as did the baler,” remembers MFBF President Bob Hanson. “That was scary. We ejected the bale, and were able to put the fire out, but had to buy a new baler.”
Hanson, a rancher from White Sulphur Springs, says he’s increased his diligence for baler safety. “Now once a day when I open the baler, I have a temperature gun to see if the baler bearings are getting too hot,” he says. “We carry a huge fire extinguisher on all of our equipment which has water, soap and compressed air. We make sure our weed spray truck is filled with water all of the time and is parked in the field where we’re working.”
Chip Petrea, PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says one of the problems with combine fires is the machines have gotten larger with greater storage capacities. “The operator cannot see the engine area without assistance. Reaching the engine area of the combine can be difficult, particularly for older farmers with health issues such as arthritis, coronary or respiratory problems,” he explains.
He strongly advises inspecting the machine during the day, and follow proper cleaning guidelines and procedures. The machine must be inspected periodically throughout the harvest day. Buildup of crop material and other debris must be removed to ensure proper machine function and to reduce the risk of fire. Frequency of inspections and cleanings will vary depending on a number of factors, including operating conditions, machine settings, crop conditions, operating speeds, and weather conditions. Inspections and cleanings may be required multiple times throughout the harvest day, particularly in dry, hot, and windy conditions.
Before you start cleaning, ensure the machine has been completely turned off, set the parking brake and remove the key. “Then thoroughly clean machine from top to bottom. The use of compressed air is highly recommended to ensure adequate cleaning,” Petrea advises.
“Clean all areas accessible from engine deck. Start with the engine compartment and work outward and counterclockwise,” Petrea notes. “Focus cleaning efforts on areas that collect crop debris or which reach elevated temperatures during machine operation. Once the top areas of the machine are clean, clean areas accessible from ground level, then start over again, focusing on those areas which are prone to collecting debris or those that reach elevated temperatures during machine operation. Once the cleaning from ground level is finished, recheck the engine compartment for any crop debris that may have blown in from ground level cleaning.”
Having an accessible fire extinguisher and a means to call 911 can save your combine, your crop, neighboring property and even your life.