Header fires spike amid bumper crops and hot, dry conditions

A recent spike in fires caused by farm machinery has prompted CFA to warn farmers to take care when harvesting welcome bumper crops or risk losing it all.

Header fires spike amid bumper crops and hot, dry conditions

Average to above average rainfall across Victoria during spring has resulted in bumper crops, but after recent hot weather much of Victoria, including parts of the Mallee and Wimmera, is drier than normal which means increased potential fuels if a fire were to start.

On average, CFA crews across state respond to more than 200 harvesting related fires every year.

CFA’s District 17, which takes in Horsham and the surrounding crop farming areas, has already experienced 17 grass, crop and stubble fires in the past three weeks. About 40 per cent were started by headers, which can happen when fine particles gather on equipment during harvesting in hot and dry conditions.

District 17 Assistant Chief Fire Officer (ACFO) Eddie Lacko said that in a year of abundant crops, farmers were working hard to harvest their crops.

“It’s really important that farmers routinely maintain, inspect and clean any material on hot engine components on farm machinery such as headers,” he said.

“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.

ACFO Lacko said that in hot conditions harvesting, grinding, welding, slashing or mowing can spark fires very easily which can quickly become dangerous.

“On really hot, dry and windy days, like what’s been forecast for tomorrow, we want farmers to consider if they can refrain from undertaking harvesting during the hottest part of the day, which is usually around 1pm to 6pm.”

CFA also reminded farmers to have adequate firefighting resources available in paddocks where harvesting operations are conducted.

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

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.
  • 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 changes.
  • Have the appropriate firefighting equipment in place. You’re required by law, to have a 9-litre water pressured extinguisher on hand.
  • More info: cfa.vic.gov.au/plan-prepare/operating-farming-machinery-equipment-and-vehicles

/CFA News Release. View in full here.