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Harvester Fire Information

With the 2015/16 harvest well and truly underway, a major risk for crops and machinery during this period is fire, and particularly relevant to grain producers is harvester fires. Given the higher than average chickpea plantings this season, the fire risk to harvesters is greaterthis season than in others.

A 2010 report by Dr Graeme R Quick into header fires noted that crops such as chickpeas, sunflowers and lentils are more susceptible than other crop types for promoting fires. An ABC Rural article quotes QLD grower John Coggan reporting 5 header fires that he was aware of this season with a larger than normal chickpea crop in Queensland.

While definitive statistics in regards to harvester fires are hard to find, it is estimated that 7% of all harvesters will start a fire each year, with one in ten of these fires resulting in significant damage. Elders Insurance conducted a review into header fires between 2000 and 2013, focusing on header fires resulting in claims of over $50,000. The results of this review concluded that each year an average of 8 headers were total losses, with the claims paid due to fire losses in this period totalling $15 million. Also, from the 250 fires reviewed, 97 resulted in a total loss.

Tips to avoid losses

Below are some recommendations from Dr Quick’s report to help reduce fire hazards while harvesting;

  1. Recognise the big four factors that contribute to fires, namely: Relative Humidity, Ambient temperature, Wind – and Crop type and conditions. “HAWC”.  Not only recognize and measure the factors, but act accordingly. Stop harvest when the danger is extreme.

  2.  Double your efforts on service, maintenance and machine hygiene at harvest on the days more hazardous for fire. Follow systematic Preparation and Prevention procedures.

  3. Use every means possible to avoid the accumulation of flammable material on the manifold, turbocharger or the exhaust system.  Even less-dry material is a possible fire hazard from possible spontaneous combustion over time if it gets packed into moving components.

  4. Be on the lookout for places where chafing of fuel lines, battery cables, hot wires, tyres, drive belts etc. can occur. 

  5. Periodically check bearings around the front and the machine body. Use a hand-held digital heat-measuring gun for temperature diagnostics on bearings, brakes etc.

  6. Drag chains, or better still drag cables or grounding conductors, help dissipate electrical charge but are patently not universally successful in all conditions.

  7. Maintain two-way contact with base and others. And keep an eye out for hazards on yours as well as other’s machines during the season.