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Farmers can take steps to help avoid fall harvest farm fires



As the fall harvest progresses, the risk of farm fires increase, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). These fires can spread rapidly and cause significant losses in crops and machinery.

The DNR offers the following tips to help avoid farm fires:

1. Prepare machinery. An overheated bearing or spark from an improperly lubricated fitting can instantaneously ignite dry plants and field debris. Make sure fire extinguishers are fully charged and the right size and type for the area. Fire extinguishers are divided into four categories, based on different types of fires. Each fire extinguisher also has a numerical rating that serves as a guide for the amount of fire the extinguisher can handle. The higher the number, the more firefighting power.

2. Keep equipment clean. Throughout the day, remove chaff, leaves and other combustibles from motors, exhausts and moving parts. A gas-powered leaf blower is great for blowing debris from machinery.

3. Service grain storage and drying equipment. Inspect all bearings, belts and motors. Keep weeds mowed around the facilities to discourage a fire from spreading. Be sure extinguishers are fully charged and the proper size and type for the area.

4. Turn off interior lighting in filled bins. A grain fire can start if grain surrounds the bulb. Turn off the light's breaker to avoid accidentally turning the light on. This also applies to hay storage facilities.

5. Till a 30-foot break around building sites, remote bin sites and outside storage facilities to minimize the potential spread of fire. Remove weeds and other combustibles around structures and stored equipment.

6. Handle hay properly. Store hay away from combustibles such as gasoline, fertilizers and pesticides, and away from open burning areas. Arrange round bales in groups of 10 or fewer and place at least 100 feet away from structures. Leave 30 feet of mowed grass, bare ground, or rock between bale groups to create a solid fire break.

Check stored hay frequently for hot spots. Be aware of a caramel or strong-burning odor, a strong musty smell, and/or hay that is hot when touched. If any of these occur, call the fire department immediately and do not move the hay. Moving it exposes overheated or smoldering hay to oxygen, speeding the fire.

If a fire occurs, remain calm and call 911 immediately. Do not wait until all your means of fighting the fire are exhausted. Every minute impacts losses. Many field and bin sites do not have 911 addresses, so be prepared to identify an intersection or landmark to direct responders.

To help control field fires until firefighters arrive, quickly disk a fire break around the fire. Be cautious when doing this as smoke will starve and stall a motor, and will make hazards and bystanders hard to see. To assist with a structural fire, make sure there are no flammable objects nearby. If the circuit panel is safely accessible, turn off the building's electricity. If time allows, evacuate any livestock to a distant pasture. Do not take risks.

After using any equipment to fight a fire, check air filters, ledges, nooks and crannies for burning debris.

For more information, contact Tom Romaine, DNR fire supervisor for southern Minnesota, at (507) 359-6048 or Bill Glesener, northwest region Firewise communities specialist, at (218) 308-2364.