Combines work hard at their job, which generates heat and some sparks. When paired with the dry, highly flammable conditions in a crop field at harvest time, there is ample potential for a fire.
“Most fires I see are usually electrical,” said Jason Damron, a Delaware County farm mechanic. “Most combines have a screen or dust sock over the alternator to keep the dust out. I blow that out every morning. You don’t want to do it when it is hot at the end of the night because you blow that hot dust around and then leave it on that hot motor. I do it in the morning when it’s cool.”
There have been a number of combine fires around Ohio this year, maybe more than usual.
“It seems like it has been overly dusty this year and there hasn’t been a lot of wind. The combine is driving around in a giant dust cloud all of the time. I have also noticed that there are more problems with radiators and air filters, which also means there is more dust going into the engine compartment,” Damron said. “And, with a bigger crop, the engine has to work harder because it takes more horsepower and the engine is running hotter. I have noticed a lot more heat coloration of the exhaust manifolds on our combines this year. Part of that is the new emissions motors too. They run hotter because they have a hotter exhaust gas temperature to try and cook that nitrous oxide out of there. The motor itself is running hotter too. Another problem is that the new John Deere combines shoot a flame out of the exhaust pipe whenever the particulate filter regenerates.”
Damron recommends taking some extra steps to prepare for a combine fire in the future.
“Put two fire extinguishers on there. On all of our machines we have one up by the ladder and one up by the motor. One of the guys I know this year that had an electrical combine fire had one large fire extinguisher that almost put the fire out before it ran out, but the fire kicked back up. They had to end up calling the fire department. You need two 10 pounders, not the itty bitty ones you carry around in your car.”
Some combine operators keep water on hand, but there can be issues with that as well.
“You don’t want to be spraying water on an electrical fire. Water is good if it is a dust fire only, but if you have an electrical fire or something you need that chemical from the fire extinguisher in there to get the fire put out,” he said. “The old fire extinguishers are awesome because you fill them up with water and a foam surfactant that makes it sticky. You just fill them up with air from your air compressor and you can use them over and over 1,000 times. They wet down the dust so it doesn’t blow the dust around everywhere. The idea with the new fire extinguisher is that the chemical depletes all of the oxygen from the fire.”
During the long hours and fast pace of a harvest season, Damron makes sure to be diligent about maintenance for minimizing chances for combine fires.
“Do preventative maintenance and look over it every day. Look at your bearings, your chains, look at your engine compartment, blow everything out and pay attention to what is going on,” he said. “If you have an older machine, especially, take an extra five minutes to look it over. Don’t just grease it, hop in it and go.”
There are also a number of questions about insurance coverage of combine fires.
“Farmers that choose to insure their combines, and most do, typically insure them for Actual Cash Value which means that it would be depreciated at the time of a loss if it were a total loss,” said Kent Fisher, farm sales manager for Nationwide Insurance. “Some farm insurance carriers can provide Replacement Cost, which the loss is paid out without depreciation, on newer combines. Nationwide Agribusiness can add replacement cost on combines five years or newer. So in the case of a fire, the claim would be paid without depreciation. Of course, replacement cost on a combine versus Actual Cash Value does come with a little higher price tag.”
Fisher said most farm insurance carriers have a minimal amount of coverage for growing crops for certain perils only. Nationwide Agribusiness provides up to $10,000 on unharvested grain in the event of a fire, lightening and vehicle damage.