Small Grains Harvest and Combine Fires

From John Shutske:Professor & Extension Specialist; Biological Systems Engineering
It looks like wheat harvest is rolling in parts of the state.   I saw a post from a friend in New Glarus saying they’d started late yesterday. Just a quick reminder on combine fire prevention and protection —  “Protection,” because SOME machines will burn regardless of how hard you work at it.  So you need to know what to do to minimize the damage.  Over the years I (or my former students) have done a bunch of investigative work on about 12,000 fires (combines, tractors and other specialty harvesters).  We’ve learned a lot….
Here are some specific reminders:

  1.  Keep the engine compartment as clean and clear of debris as possible.  Caked/oily residue means there’s a leak someplace.  Fix it. 
  2. Listen closely for unusual noises and pay attention to warning lights and sensors that could indicate bearing/belt/and other drive component issues.  Fix them. 
  3. Many combine fires are ignited by the electrical system – blown fuses, flickering lighting, etc. are all signs that you might have damage.  
  4. The ABC dry chemical fire extinguisher is probably still the most cost-effective and overall effective type of extinguisher.  The bigger the better (at least 10 pounds).  Mount extinguishers (recommend at least two ten-pounders) where they can be grabbed quickly in the cab AND/OR from the ground.  
  5. If a combine does catch fire, pull it away from any standing crop quickly.  Shut off the engine.  The longer the fire burns, the more difficult it will be to put it out.  If the engine is left running, it will be almost impossible to extinguish (even if the fire department shows up)! 
  6. Grab your extinguisher if time allows and get out.  Call for help.  It is not always possible to put out a vehicle fire with a handheld extinguisher.  A second one is often needed, even on a smaller fire. 
  7. Always consider PERSONAL safety.  A combine fire that gets into a fuel, oil, or other flammable liquid system will burn hot.  Even more so if a tire is involved.   A machine can be replaced.  A life cannot. 
  8. If you’ve used an extinguisher (even for a short burst), it MUST be recharged.  If you’re not sure where to recharge and re-tag your extinguisher, call your fire department.


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