Fighting Farm Equipment Fires

  • Oct. 3, 2014 12:00 p.m.

Pipestone Flyer

Your heart stops when you see it. A huge black plume of smoke rising above a distant field. It is a farmer’s worst nightmare — fire in the combine or baler. Fire that, depending on the conditions, could destroy machinery, crop fields, neighbouring property, or even your life. Several farmers speak out on what to do to protect your life and equipment investment.

An Ounce of Prevention….

Bird nests tucked away under a tractor hood have been known to start fires. The first line of defence in preventing machine fires is to follow proper cleaning guidelines and procedures. Inspect the machine throughout the day and remove any build up of crop debris and other loose material. These inspections and cleanings will help ensure proper function as well as reduce the risk of fire. Just be sure to completely stop the machine, apply the brake and remove the key.


Combines have gotten larger with greater storage capacities, and this can be a potential fire hazard. According to Research Specialist in Ag Safety and Health, Chip Petrea, PhD, at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, “Operators cannot see the engine area without assistance. Reaching the engine area of the combine can be difficult, particularly for older farmers with health issues such as arthritis, coronary or respiratory problems.”

He advises farmers to clean all areas accessible from engine deck. “Start with the engine compartment and work outward and counterclockwise,” he notes. And “focus cleaning efforts on areas that collect crop debris or which reach elevated temperatures during operation.“ Once the top areas are clean, then clean areas accessible from ground level. Do a quick recheck of the engine compartment for any debris that might have blown in during the ground level cleaning.

If you smell something “burning” or “hot,” check it out immediately. Don’t assume it is the neighbour’s burning garbage.


Hot baler bearings are notorious for starting fires. Some farmers are now using laser temperature sensing guns to check for hot bearings throughout the day. It is simple to use—just aim and click— no climbing up the baler or trying to get at those hard to reach places.

You might wish to switch to a dry chain lube with graphite. Some farmers claim the oil in regular lubricant acts as an accelerant.

Carry one or two large fire extinguishers in the cab and be sure the operator knows how it is used. One common comment of farmers who have lost balers is that it took more water than they anticipated. Some carry extra water bottles in the twine box; a few claim a bottle of 2 L. pop works as a good extinguisher. Still others have a truck-mounted weed sprayer tank on standby at the edge of the field.

While you are at it, you had better check your farm insurance policies. Some companies may refuse payment if there is not an extinguisher (dry chemical) onboard the tractor (and sometimes on the baler).

Never park a baler with the bale still inside.

Bail Out from Baler Fires

Have a strategy and review it. First, dump the burning bale and move away from it, then get the tractor unpinned from the baler. Grab your extinguishers and call the Fire Department.

Fields can quickly ignite and turn into a conflagration, especially in hot, dry conditions with a blowing wind. Know your limitations. If the flames are too great for you to safely unhitch the baler from the tractor, do not attempt to do so.

A cell phone is your lifeline to rapid help through 911. Carry it with you and know your location.

For more photos and stories about Fire Prevention Week, see this week’s special section, The Fire Brigade News, included with your paper.

Pictured: John Deere Baler on fire near Calmar. Photo by Linda Steinke

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