North-east harvester fires prompts warning to farmers

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Farmers celebrating the potential for bumper crops following decent winter and spring rainfall have been warned by CFA to take care when harvesting the welcome yields.


The reminder comes after a harvester caught fire at Carlyle on Tuesday, with Paul Heard, Deputy Group Officer of Rutherglen Group, saying five tankers and additional support vehicles were required.

“It was a new machine that caught fire, so we’re not sure what the cause was but it could have been something mechanical.

“The owners had their own private appliance on scene and were straight onto it but those fires go up pretty quickly.

“There was no threat of it spreading in canola stubble this time, but it’s probably a good word of warning as we get closer to wheat harvest where headers can cause large grass and scrub fires.

“The key learning is to make sure these machines are well maintained and blown down regularly, particularly this year when people are harvesting heavy crops so they do get hot.”

Higher than normal rainfall through spring has led to strong vegetation growth, and many farmers are eagerly looking forward to a successful harvesting season.

While canola harvesting is underway in the North East in the areas around Rutherglen, barley is expected to start within the next two weeks, and wheat shortly after that.

Acting Assistant Chief Fire Officer Carl Stibilj warned that as the vegetation dries out, the fire risk will increase.

“Harvest time can be very dangerous and each season unfortunately we see machinery and vehicles spark fires in different parts of the state,” said A/ACFO Stibilj.

“CFA volunteer firefighters respond to more than 200 harvesting -related fires a year on average.

“Not only do these fires put pressure on our volunteers, many of whom are farmers themselves, but it also puts farmers’ profits and safety at risk.”

A/ACFO Carl Stibilj said fires caused by machinery and harvesting operations can be avoided if farmers and harvest contractors take care and follow the correct practices.

“The key to avoiding harvester fires is diligence. We know farmers will be working extremely hard this season to harvest their crops, but it is important that they consistently clean and maintain their machinery, as well as inspect it thoroughly before and during use,” he said.

“Hot and dry conditions are a particular concern for CFA; if it’s a high fire risk day, our advice is to postpone any work that was planned to be conducted in the paddock.

“In hot and dry conditions activities such as harvesting, grinding, welding, slashing or mowing can spark fires very easily and they can become dangerous quite quickly.”

CFA reminded farmers to ensure machinery such as headers are routinely maintained, moving parts and bearings are regularly inspected and cleaned. Breakdown of canola pods due to recent rain may also lead to a higher level of material on and around hot engine components.

“It should be part of everyone’s routine to check for straw or grass build-ups in machinery, to maintain its spark arrestors, and to take regular breaks when operating machinery to ensure it doesn’t get too hot,” A/ACFO Carl Stibilj said.

CFA reminded farmers to have adequate firefighting resources available in paddocks where harvesting operations are conducted, and advised against driving vehicles and motorbikes through dry grass as exhaust systems can heat up and ignite dry grass underneath on hot days.

“Farmers are usually CFA’s strongest advocates for managing fire risk as they know the consequences of fires starting on their properties and the risk to both their crops and machinery, and those of their neighbours,” A/ACFO Carl Stibilj said.

“Being fire safe on your farm should be part of any fire plan you have.”

Crop and Farm Machinery Fire Safety
  • The most common cause of harvester fires is material collecting on hot engine components such as the manifold, exhaust and turbocharger.
  • The key to avoiding harvester fires is diligence in clean-down and inspection.
  • Postpone paddock work during the highest fire-risk periods. On hot, dry days, exercise extreme caution before harvesting, grinding, welding, slashing or mowing.
  • Check the Fire Danger Rating against the Grain Harvesting Operations Guide before harvesting.
  • Check for total fire ban or severe weather warnings and current fire incidents and follow recommendations.
  • Avoid driving vehicles and motorbikes through dry grass or crop - the risk from the hot exhaust system is high. Driving vehicles with catalytic converters or diesel particulate filters through dry grass and crops is particularly hazardous.
  • Take regular breaks.
  • Make it part of your routine to check for straw or grass build-up, and hot bearings.
  • Check machinery to ensure that spark arrestors are maintained.
  • Prepare a communication plan that includes family, contractors and neighbours.
  • Prepare strategic breaks to stop fires entering or leaving your property.
  • Run regular maintenance checks on farm machinery.
  • Monitor machinery regularly during operations.
  • Monitor weather conditions throughout the day and stop operations if it becomes hot and dry.
  • Have the appropriate firefighting equipment in place. You’re required by law, to have a 9-litre water pressured extinguisher on hand.

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Submitted by CFA Media