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In the Shop

RSS By: Dan Anderson, Farm Journal

As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.

In The Shop: Read What Margy Fischer Wrote

Oct 08, 2011

 Don't just scan and nod when you read Margy Fischer's fire prevention notes posted elsewhere on Farm Journal's website. All those suggestions are useful to prevent combine and field fires during this year's unusually windy harvest.

BUT--if you skip or forget one or more of those fire prevention tips, and suddenly smell smoke while combining or working in a field, here are some hard-learned suggestions if fire PREVENTION is history and fire CONTROL is current news.

-As Margy wrote, call 911 first. Only if you know someone else is DEFINITELY calling 911 with accurate directions to the fire's location should you attempt to begin to put out the fire. Many rural areas now have some sort of 911 street/road address system. Make sure you know the address of each field you're harvesting so you can give quick, accurate directions.  (The dispatcher probably won't have a clue where, "...the field behind Smith's old hog barn, south of the jog in the County Road," is located.)

-If you're using a pressurized, water-filled extinguisher, be cautious. The high pressure water jet can dislodge and blow embers or burning material and actually spread the fire. If diesel fuel is burning, water extinguishers can definitely spread the fire. ABC-type powder-filled extinguishers are best for diesel-fueled fires. For generic combine fires, I prefer water-filled extinguishers, because they can knock down a pretty good-sized debris fire, but have learned to use them judiciously.

-If fire spreads into harvested or unharvested crop the quickest way to stop its spread is with tillage equipment. Disks may not turn up enough moist dirt to stop a fire in really dry residue when winds are strong. Disk rippers/chisels seem to work better. Show no mercy if the fire is racing through unharvested crop. It's better to destroy two or three passes of unharvested crop with a ripper rather than lose the entire field--or section.

-Keep tillage machines that are creating firebreaks out of the fire. Leaked oil, leaked fuel or dry crop residue accumulated under fenders or around the lower frame can burst into flame if a hero tries to trim close to the fire line. 

-If you aren't part of the solution, stay away. Gawkers and spectators not only make it difficult for fire crews to get to the fire, but there is always risk a fire may move in unexpected directions and put onlookers at risk.

-If there's smoke, there's fire. If you manage to put out a smolderingl fire on a combine with minimal damage, take time to haul water to it or move it to a location where you can drown it with water. Flood it. Immerse it, if possible. The smallest glowing ember can burst back into flame when the air blast from the engine cooling fan, separator cleaning fan or even the air movement from a spinning pulley hits it. Be aware that large, plastic-covered electrical harnesses often get filled over time with fine, powdery crop dust that happily smolders inside those electrical harness protectors like a fuse. I've seen fires erupt 10 feet from the initial fire point, hours and hours after the fire was "put out," thanks to dust smoldering inside electrical harnesses.

-Once a combine fire reaches the full-flame stage, it's often a losing battle. I had a rural fire fighter once joke that he keeps a pack of marshmallows in his fire truck because, "usually, by the time we get to a combine fire, it's time for the hot dogs and marshmallows, 'cause those puppies burn hot and fast."

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