It’s hot and it’s excessively dry.

Every year we seem to have this conversation about fire safety at harvest, but I think this year especially, it’s crucial that we are having the discussion.

I am no expert at this topic, however, a recent grass fire half a mile from my house — that got lucky due to low winds and a small shower of rain the night before — reminded me of how quick it can go.

Harvest is one of those times of the year where we just want to get the crop off as quick as we can. There are many farmers pulling long days, and in an effort to keep eyes and brains fresh, operators can sometimes end up being family members, neighbours, and others who just want to help. This community mentality is great — do not get me wrong here — but it can sometime lead to quick operational training, with fire safety left out.

There are few things worse than the panic that can consume a person when you are sitting on a piece of machinery and trying to decipher where the strong smell of smoke is coming from in 35 degree heat.

Of course, some things simply can’t be prevented. However, the question remains: what can we do to bring the risk of a fire down to a minimum when operating machinery?

A crucial factor is education. Have the conversation with your kids or others helping out at harvest that may not usually be around machinery. I compiled a list of tips and tricks from a number of sources (found below) to get you started:

  • Have a plan, and talk through it with operators — even if it’s just a conversation over coffee. Being aware of what could happen is important.
  • Inspect your combine prior to the start of harvest. Do not just drive it from where it’s been parked. A part of inspection is ensuring bearings and drives are lubricated often, and tension is adjusted as needed.
  • Have working and operational fire extinguishers mounted on equipment. Here’s the catch though: you have to know how to use it, too. If you’re like me — a few brain cells often get lost during a panic, so you can’t really be over prepared. A good acronym to use and remember for fire extinguishers is PASS.
    • P: Pull the pin
    • A: Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire
    • S: Squeeze the handle
    • S: Sweep the nozzle side to side
  • If it’s as hot as it’s been across the Prairies all summer, it doesn’t hurt to do a walk around your piece of machinery every couple of hours if you can. Make sure there are no exposed wires, wear, or deterioration that needs attention. Watch, listen, and smell that everything is in good working order. (Bonus: getting out for a walk around is good for your mental health, too).
  • Remove crop residue, debris, dirt, and excess lubricant around all heat sources regularly.
  • In high risk situations, have a water truck at the ready.
  • For those who haven’t kicked the smoking habit, butts must be fully extinguished in an actual ashtray. Don’t let your butt be the reason someone’s crop or equipment goes up in flames.
  • Carry a cellphone with you at all times. It’s very easy to hop out of the cab of the combine with your phone still in the cupholder, only to find a disaster at the bottom. Getting help out to you is crucial. As well, know your land location (and post it for temporary employees) for said help to quickly find you.
  • Carry a shovel on equipment for potential fires.
  • Know the dangers of each crop you are harvesting. Some crops are known to be sticky — such as canola or sunflowers. Others are known for their wrapping abilities, such as hemp. This can cause adhering to the machine, could increase heat, and well, we’re trying to avoid heat.
  • Avoid parking vehicles or machinery on stubble. It’s so dry. Any excess heat could cause problems, so let’s prevent what we can.
  • When refuelling equipment, let the engine cool down before fuelling.
  • Be aware of seasonal conditions, especially if it is extraordinarily windy, or hot.
  • If possible, have a disc or cultivator hooked up in the field and ready to go if you need to build a bare soil fire break ahead of a fire.
  • Take an extra second to think. Many are looking for this growing season to be over; however, we want to ensure that with efficiency, comes safety as well.

Have something you’d like to add? Leave a comment, tweet us @realagriculture, or send me an email — [email protected]

Resources used:

Avoiding, Preparing For and Reacting to Harvest Fires

Tips for Preventing Combine Fires

9 Tips to Prevent a Fire During Harvest

Harvest safety: Combine considerations

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