By JEFF BURBRINK,
On Monday, Oct. 19, the National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning, which indicates the conditions were right for fires to spread rapidly due to dry conditions and wind. While conditions are expected to improve slightly over the next week, the fact is the fields are very dry out there.
Many field fires are the result of dust and debris buildup in areas where worn bearings begin to heat up. It is always a good idea to take an occasional break to walk around the combine several times a day to listen and watch for potential problems.
Another common source of fire is electrical shorts caused by thin or missing insulation from rubbing against moving parts. Exposed wires often spark, leading to fire where dust has collected. If you are experiencing issues with blown fuses, try to find the source of the problem rather than constantly replacing blown fuses. Never be tempted to replace a blown fuse with one of larger capacity, which can lead to overheated wires.
Don’t forget to keep an eye on other equipment like grain carts, mowers and trucks in the field. While you hear mostly about combines starting fires, other equipment can cause sparks and start field fires too.
Leaf blowers can be handy tools to clean away chaff and plant materials where they collect, especially near moving parts, chaff spreaders, the engine and exhaust system. Even worn belts can produce enough heat to start a fire.
It is always a good idea to have two fully charged fire extinguishers on the combine: one in the cab, and one at ground level. In the event of a fire, sweep back and forth while aiming at the base of the fire. Anytime you smell smoke, stop and take a look around. A debris fire can smolder for hours before taking off in an inferno, even when the equipment has been shut down.
In the arid western states, it is a common practice to start harvesting on the downwind side of the field. If a fire starts, at least your standing crop is less likely to be damaged.
If a fire is discovered, always remember your personal safety first. Call 911 as soon as you notice the fire, then try to put it out.