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Knock down machinery fire potential

Jeff Caldwell 05/31/2012 @ 9:52am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Though they're more common during fall harvest when fields are dry and full of fuel, field and equipment fires can happen anytime. But, there are a few things you can do to help keep it from happening on your farm, according to a specialist with the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA).

Even though they've been out there since last fall, the stalks, leaves and other fuel sources in the field hold just as much potential to spark a blaze than ever, says NCGA production and stewardship action team chair Dean Taylor. And, even though the planting timeframe's been fairly wide this spring, a fire at the wrong time can not only be costly in terms of machinery and crop losses, but can also cost you valuable minutes and hours during the busiest time of the year.

"Equipment fires are not only dangerous but are often extremely costly for farmers," Taylor says. "During this busy season, a fire can halt work in an instant causing property damage and consuming valuable time.  Building risk management practices into your schedule could end up saving both time and money."

Taylor offers these tips to minimize the fire potential before you enter the field to plant, conduct tillage or apply chemical this spring:

  • Clean up machinery. Seventy-five percent of all machinery fires start in the engine compartment. Make sure that and all other areas and components of your iron is cleaned up before entering the field. "Cleaning the engine thoroughly will allow it to run cooler, operate more efficiently and will greatly reduce the risk of a fire," Taylor says.

  • Keep it clean. Cleaning your machinery before entering the field isn't enough; keep it clean while you're working, not just beforehand. "Frequently blow dry chaff, leaves or other material off of the machine with compressed air or a portable leaf blower," Taylor says. "Then, remove wrapped plant materials on or near bearings, belts and any other moving parts."

  • Check fluid levels regularly. Taylor advises doing this every morning. While doing so, check for any loose connections or leaks where fluids -- especially combustible ones -- could escape. "look for any possible leaking fuel or oil hoses, fittings or metal lines," he says. "Often, areas that may rub from wear, such as the pressurized oil supply line, may breach causing an oil leak." If you discover an issue, fix it immediately.

  • Check other heat sources. This includes exhaust system surfaces like the manifold, muffler and turbocharger. Repair any leaks immediately. And, make sure your wiring's all clean and free of shorts. While you're at it, check your bearings. "Worn bearings can also reach extremely high temperatures which can cause any rubber belt coming into contact with this intense heat to ignite," Taylor says. "Make sure to inspect for worn bearings, belts and chains frequently."

Sometimes, though, field fires are just inevitable. In the event it happens, you want to be prepared. That includes having a fully-charged fire extinguisher in your tractor, sprayer or combine cab. And, quick communication is important too. Keep your cell phone or 2-way radio handy, Taylor says.


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