Harvest Safely Without Fire

The most common and costly fires happen on the bigger harvest equipment, such as combines, according to John Shutske, an Extension farm health and safety specialist. Whether it’s wheat, corn, soybeans, or hay… keep your equipment, and most importantly yourself, safe from fire this harvest season.


“Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” as the old saying goes. All a fire needs are heat and a fuel source. The machinery brings the heat and the crop residue in the middle of a dry field is an opportune fire starter. Many times, Shutske says crop residue fires transmit into a fuel line or leaky oil or rubber tires which almost always result in a total loss. Some preventive measures you can take each day during the harvest season include:

  • Wear safety glasses and a dust mask.
  • Go through your equipment with an air compressor and blow all the horizontal surfaces clean of crop residue.

“In Wisconsin, we’ve got this really limited window of a couple of months with good harvest conditions, so people often don’t want to take those extra 15 or 30 minutes to make sure you’re doing that preventive maintenance during the season,” Shutske says. “But in this case, it can mean the difference between a productive season or losing upwards of a $750,000 machine.”

Replace Leaky Seals

  • While you’re doing regular cleaning, also check places where fuel, oil, or hydraulic fluid may be leaking. These fluids are flammable.
  • Replace lines, seals, or connections as needed.


Electrical fires are not uncommon but difficult to diagnose, Shutske says. Unless you really understand how your combine, tractor, or another piece of equipment is wired, you need to see a dealer or mechanic who can diagnose the electrical parts of the system.

An obvious sign something is wrong: flickering or dimming lights. This means there’s a loose connection somewhere. It could be from a broken connection, a corroded wire, or damage from animals.

If a fire does occur….

  • Don’t panic– It may be hard to see when there’s a fire in or on your machine but there are signs, such as smoke or a sputtering engine.
  • Get away and shut down– Move away from any standing crop as quickly as possible so you have less of a chance of starting the field on fire.
  • Turn off the machine– When you’re away from the crop, shut your machine down. This suppresses the flow of liquid and the air that fans the flames.
  • Grab a fire extinguisher– With the machine shut off, you’re more than likely able to aim your hand-held fire extinguisher at the flames, Shutske says.
  • Call for help-If you have a cell phone or other means of communication, call 911 and get help out to the field. Not all fires can be put out by the farmer.

Be Prepared

Have your means of communication ready in the event of an unexpected disaster. Have a cell phone plan that covers the whole farmstead. Shutske also urges farmers to take the extra time to maintain equipment because when a person is badly injured or killed, it changes the farm, the family, and the community.

A fire is a devastating event that no one wants to deal with. Make sure you’re reviewing your farm insurance so your equipment and entire farm are fully protected against disasters. Reach out to your local insurance agent today to go over your policy and other ways to remain safe during the harvest season.