How to Prevent and Fight Combine and Machinery Fires

— An electrical arc cable can generate extremely high temperatures in agricultural machinery. Replace worn or faulty components.

— Worn bearings can reach high temperatures that can cause any rubber belt that comes in contact with this intense heat to ignite. Often look for and replace worn bearings, belts, and chains.


The ISU added some of the following tips in blogs written by its field agronomists, Joshua Michel and Terry Basol:

— Inspect and clean ledges or indentations near fuel tanks and lines.

— Before refueling, turn off the combine and wait 15 minutes to reduce the risk of volatilization and ignition of a spilled liquid.

— Invert and shake fire extinguisher once or twice per season to ensure machine vibration does not compact the powder inside. Class A water extinguishers must be stored in a heated area during the winter or they will freeze.

— Keep a shovel on top of the combine to throw dirt when needed.


The ISU and NCGA both stressed that the most important thing was to get away from the machinery and call for help.

— If a fire breaks out while operating a machine, stop the engine, access the fire extinguisher and exit the vehicle immediately. In the event of a fire, always keep a safe distance from the vehicle. Call 911. Attack with fire extinguishers if safe to do so. Try to fight from the “black”, the area is already burned. Fighting a fire from areas with combustible materials (e.g. dry corn stalks) is far more risky. Use the flexible hose on the extinguisher to continuously spray the base of all visible flames to cool the fire and prevent it from rekindling until help arrives.

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— Always stay downwind of a fire to minimize risk of exposure to smoke, heat, and possible flames (due to gusts of wind).

— Beware of vehicles without farming equipment that may be in the fields. UTVs or passenger vehicles often sit closer to the ground and can be more prone to starting field fires. Debris buildup in UTV engine compartments can be a fire source.

— Newer diesel engines often go through a regeneration process to burn off soot from their DPF (diesel particulate filter). During this process, exhaust gas temperatures can reach extremely high levels, often in excess of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep equipment clean and do not park or work in an area where vehicle exhaust fumes are emitted, near combustible materials. This ensures that devices in the regeneration state do not ignite a fire.

Finally, the ISU agronomy team emphasized the importance of a plan:

— Before harvest, create lists of 911 addresses for each of your field locations and keep them easily accessible for family and farm workers. Many fire departments have GPS devices on board their equipment to assist them in directing incidents. When an incident is called using a 911 address, the operator can more easily identify the location of the incident and relay that information to equipment drivers. Precious time can be saved when devices can be instantly dispatched with GPS guidance instead of having to double-check maps and directions.

(See more tips from ISU at… and on the blog….)

If you are done combining but still dealing with baling, here are some tips to avoid bale fires at:….

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The following suggestions have been made by the ISU for creating a tillage firebreak:

— Tillage along the perimeter of a field (particularly a corn field, which can provide ample fuel for a fire due to high residue levels) is a proven preventative strategy to prevent fires from spreading into a field.

— When safe to do so, creating a firebreak with a tillage pass can help prevent the spread of an active, out-of-control fire. Create an area that will not fuel the fire to allow the fire to burn itself out.

— A good rule of thumb is to create a firebreak two to three times the width of the nearest surface vegetation or plant debris at a height (example: 3 foot brome grass along a field edge = 6-9 foot working width). Remember that depending on wind speed and gusts, the radiant heat and embers of a fire can sometimes “reach” twice as far as they normally could. Consequently, a firebreak may need to be considerably wide (up to 30 feet and more) to ensure proper fire containment.

DTN Staff Reporter Russ Quinn contributed to this story.

Elaine Shein can be reached at [email protected]

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