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Field fire danger running high

Jeff Caldwell 10/06/2011 @ 1:58pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Warm, dry and windy conditions have helped farmers make quick work of a lot of their fields this fall. But, those same conditions have made harvest as dangerous as it is fruitful for a lot of farmers. This fall's conditions have fueled a lot more field fires than normal, and that risk isn't going away anytime soon.

Agriculture.com Farm Business Talk frequent contributor farmandfire is a rural firefighter and farmer in northern Iowa, and he says he's seeing more than his fair share of field fires this fall already.

"Our area had a total of 6 combine/field fires today," he said recently. "We had winds ranging from 30 to 45 [mph] with gusts upward of 60 mph. One fire ran a mile and a half and grew to 2 miles wide."

Conditions like these have prompted weather officials to issue warnings around the Plains and Corn Belt where farmers are busy with harvest, saying the hot, dry conditions combined with the number of combines working in the field are the perfect recipe for fire.


(Photo by Justin Davey)

Though it's good to practice good field fire safety in every harvest season, it's especially important in a year when fire danger is high, like this year, says University of Nebraska farm safety specialist Dave Morgan. He advises taking these steps to reduce fire potential in your fields:

  • Keep your equipment clean and in good repair. When you get done for the day, take time to clean your machine thoroughly with an air compressor, power washer, or even a broom to dislodge any crop residue or chaff from the combine.
  • Fix any fuel, hydraulic or oil leaks. When it’s this windy, vegetative matter breaks up into really fine material that readily accumulates on oil and fuel leaks, Morgan said. This creates a source of solid and liquid fuel. From there, it doesn’t take much to start the fire -- a dry bearing or a slipping belt can quickly heat up or spark.
  • Check fluid levels and carefully refill, being careful not to spill any oil or fuel on the equipment. But don’t overfill fluid reservoirs. With high temperatures in the mid 80s, oil expands and may “burp” out the vent, creating another fuel source for fire.
  • Carry at least one, and preferably two, fully charged 10 lb ABC fire extinguishers on all equipment. (Be sure to have your fire extinguishers inspected annually and refilled as necessary).

And, be ready with other equipment in the event you're called on to help fight a field fire in your area, adds Agriculture.com Farm Business Talk senior contributor Pupdaddy.

"I tend to leave a tractor hooked on the disk with a full tank of fuel when harvesting in the fall. It sure can save a bunch of corn if you have to head off a field fire," he says. "It's happened more than once in the local area...and I was always thankful I could help."

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