Minimise harvester fires with regular hygiene, inspection and maintenance

Harvester fires

During harvesting season, it's important to remember that harvester and machine losses can be minimised with regular machine hygiene, inspection and maintenance.

Harvester fires can cause considerable damage to surrounding crops and properties, as well as the machinery itself. While it's impossible to eliminate the risk, there are ways you can reduce the chance of fire on your property.

Growers need to be familiar with the South Australian Grain Harvesting Code of Practice to maintain fire safety, ensuring they focus on service, maintenance, and machine hygiene. It's also important there is a well maintained and fully operational farm firefighting unit with a minimum of 400 litres of water located in the paddock area where harvesting or grain handling operations are occurring

It's critical to recognise factors that contribute to fire weather, including relative humidity, temperature, and wind speeds. Growers should monitor conditions against the Grassland Fire Behaviour Index (GFBI) and stop operations when the local actual GFBI exceeds 40.

A regular and proactive machinery maintenance program is vital both before and during harvest, ensuring particular attention is given to wearing parts, hydraulic lines, belts and bearings. Growers should use every means possible to avoid the accumulation of flammable materials on the manifold, turbocharger or exhaust system, with a rigorous clean of machinery in regular cleaning intervals. Be sure to check under guarded areas, where dust and chaff build up can go unnoticed.


Harvester fire reduction checklist*

  1. Recognise the big four factors that contribute to fires: relative humidity, ambient temperature, wind and crop type and conditions. Stop harvest when the danger is extreme.
  2. Focus 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. Be aware of side and tailwinds that can disrupt the radiator fan airblast that normally keeps the exhaust area clean.
  4. Be on the lookout for places where chafing can occur ie fuel lines, battery cables, hot wires, tyres, drive belts etc.
  5. Avoid overloading electrical circuits. Don’t replace a blown fuse with a higher amperage one. It is your only protection against wiring damage from shorts and overloading.
  6. Periodically check bearings around the front and the machine body. Use a handheld digital heat-measuring gun for temperature diagnostics on bearings, brakes, etc.
  7. Drag chains, or better still drag cables or grounding conductors, may help dissipate electrical charge but are not universally successful in all conditions. There are some invaluable fire-suppressing options on the market.
  8. Use the battery isolation switch when the harvester is parked. Use vermin deterrents in the cab and elsewhere, as vermin chew some types of electrical insulation.
  9. Observe the Grassland Fire Behaviour Index (GFBI) protocol on high fire risk days.
  10. Maintain two-way or mobile phone contact with base and others. Keep an eye out for hazards on machinery during the season.

* Excerpt taken from Reducing harvest fires: The Back Pocket Guide