Corn harvest is just starting and with the shortage of forages this year, several corn fields will have corn stalks baled up. With the majority of the state being in some variation of drought, the potential of a fire occurring and spreading rapidly is a topic of concern. Here are a few tips and reminders to prevent fires from occurring.

Field of bales

Preventing Baler Fires

• It is recommended to clean the baler of dry matter such as leaves, dust and plant stems with a battery or gas-powered leaf blower after every 50 to 75 bales. However, cleaning the baler should be done a minimum at the end of each day.

• Inspect bearings, chains, hoses and belts for wear and replace worn parts.

• Remove excess net wrap and/or twine pieces that may have accumulated around the rollers.

• One way to ensure bearings are operating efficiently and staying cool is using an infrared thermometer with lasers that can be purchased for around $50. Check bearings once the machine has warmed up. Bearings typically run between 125-150-degrees F. Once bearings are reaching temperatures above 180-degrees F, damage can occur. If bearing reach temperatures above 300-degrees F, shut the machine off immediately.

• Look for purple discoloration on the shields of the baler where the roller bearings are located, as this can be indication of a “hot spot.” These “hot spots” are indications of bearing that is wearing out and needs to be replaced.

• Check belts to assure they have not become loose. When a belt becomes too loose, it will slip on the rollers causing friction. That friction can allow dust particles, loose material and the developing bale to ignite.

• Lubricate chains, gears, and bearings according to manufacturer recommendations.

• Immediately repair any hydraulic or fuel leaks.

Preparation Before a Fire Happens

• Always carry a cell phone or alternative for communicating with others in case of a fire.

• Carry a minimum of one 10 lb ABC dry chemical fire extinguisher (Figure 1) stored in or near the cab of the tractor or on the baler. Do not climb onto a burning machine to put it out. It is not worth the risk of the loss of your life or sever injury.

Remember to PASS when using the extinguisher

Pull the pin.

Aim the nozzle

Squeeze the trigger

Sweep across the base of the fire

Note: All fire extinguishers should be checked by the fire department or other agency annually to assure they are fully charged and ready. Once an extinguisher has been used it must be recharged. During the baling season, invert and shake the extinguisher canister once or twice to prevent machine vibration from consolidating the dry chemicals at the bottom of the canister.

• Carry a shovel or spade so dirt can be thrown on a fire or to put out the “hot” spots.

• Check your hitch type for easy unhooking (i.e. hitch pin vs threaded bolt).

• Have a tractor hooked to a disk near the field you are harvesting but located where it wouldn’t be affected if a field fire should occur.

• Have a large water tank with water located near the field.

Putting Out a Fire

• Turn the baler off.

• Pull the tractor and baler into an adjacent area that has already been baled because there is less fire fuel.

• Call 911 before trying to extinguish the fire yourself. Depending on your location, it may take up to 30 minutes or longer before the fire department can reach the scene. The sooner they are aware, the sooner they can be on scene. Adrenaline is flowing but provide dispatch with as much detail regarding your location as possible. Include county road names and numbers or precise description i.e., 5 miles east and 4 miles north of Farmer Brown’s house. The advantage of volunteer fire departments is their knowledge of where people live in the area. However, if several departments are called out to a fire located “northeast of town” they must look for the smoke to locate the fire and can be delayed.

• Baler should be unhooked from the tractor only when your life is not at risk. No value of tractor is worth your life.

• Focus on keeping the fire from spreading to the surrounding vegetation by either putting a disc line around it or wetting down the surrounding area.

References

Preventing fires in baled hay and straw. (2012). Farm and Ranch Extension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from www.extension.org/pages/66577/preventing-fires-in-baled-hay-and-straw.

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