Written by Andrew Shaw
Emmetts Precision Ag Consultant & CFA Volunteer
Harvest operations and fire are a partnership that can have a disastrous impact on your farming or business operation. Taking some precautions before and during harvest may reduce the risk of fire and costly down-time. Manage the factors that can cause fire, and be prepared should a fire occur during your harvest operation.
Most modern machines run hotter and are capable of covering large areas in less time than ever before. Larger machines require more horsepower to drive them and this additional heat adds to the fire risk. There are three things that fire needs to thrive – heat, fuel and oxygen. Heat is produced by the motor and will vary depending on the load and outside ambient temperature. Fuel comes in the form of fine dust and chaff particles that are produced by the harvester when threshing materials. Oxygen is plentiful in a harvesting environment due to the increased fan sizes and speed required for cooling packages, separation, and naturally occurring winds. All these factors combine to create a potential disaster.
Field staff investigating causes of fires in harvest machinery found that a large percentage of fires start around the turbo, more specifically in the area between the turbo and the manifold, where temperatures can be quite high depending on load and the operating conditions. The area around the turbo becomes super-heated, and ignites material suspended in the air. If the embers land somewhere on the machine or on the ground, in the right conditions this can quickly escalate into a fire. Heat and ignition points can be also found in other areas around the machine. Failed or worn components such as bearings, belts and hydraulic drive assemblies can also add to the potential to cause fires.
Simple steps can be taken to help reduce your risk of fire, such as:
• Blow down and clean your machine regularly, paying particular attention to those areas of the machine where excess amounts of material build up.
• Regularly check your machine throughout the day’s operation for excess buildup and overheating.
• Monitor the weather and be prepared in hot and windy conditions.
• When harvesting in high risk conditions, reducing the machine’s power requirement from 100% to 80% can reduce overheating of the turbo and engine.
A good harvest operation requires more than just a harvester. There are other pieces of equipment required to successfully remove product from the paddock, and at times these machines are often overlooked. Recently we have seen the introduction of Tier 4 engines and the use of Diesel Particulate Filters (DPF). The reason these engines have been introduced is to reduce the carbon emissions from a machine. In some cases, the machine will automatically activate a regeneration burn of the DPF when the exhaust limit for carbon build has been reached. To achieve this regeneration burn, the exhaust is heated further through a process of dosing to burn the carbon and particulate matter in the exhaust, allowing it to pass through the system. This process increases the exhaust temperature and creates another potential ignition point in the field. If you have a machine with a DPF system attached, allowing the unit to complete a DPF burn before entering the paddock or providing a safe area in the field will assist in managing the fire risk.
In the event of a fire, being prepared and having the necessary equipment on hand means you can act quickly and put the fire out before it becomes a real threat or control it until other fire fighting services arrive. Having fire fighting equipment such as fire carts before starting harvest is a worthwhile investment. Ensure fire extinguishers are charged and serviceable on all units used in the field, and communication equipment like UHF’s are in good working order. Have a basic action plan should a fire start, and ensure all members of the harvest operation are aware of the procedures.
Looking at all the following considerations before commencing harvest operations can assist in reducing the risk of fire and potentially costly down-time for your operation. The most important consideration of all is the safety of yourself and others involved in the harvest operation.
• Determine the risk level - is there a high risk of fire today? Are the weather conditions suitable to commence or maintain harvesting? Is it a Total Fire Ban Day?
• The harvester is serviceable and ready to commence harvest. Are the other machines used to move and transport product also serviceable?
• Is the harvester clean and free of excess material build up from harvesting? Look at areas where debris can build up around the machine (around the motor, cooling packages and on ledges).
• Clean around the cooling package, keeping the radiator and fan areas clean so that air can circulate and assist in reducing the engine temperature.
• Reduce the machine power load in crops that are known to have a heightened fire risk.
• Review the order machines are moved around the farm, so that assets are in place prior to commencing a field or farm.
• Is all fire fighting equipment serviced and in good working order?
• Is there an emergency management plan place in the event of a fire starting? What action is taken if the fire escalates beyond your control? Are all members of the operation aware of these procedures?