Fire plans prevent harvest season from going up in smoke

With most of Michigan in a drought, preventing fires during harvest time is critical.

A combine completely ingulfed in flames.
A combine completely ingulfed in flames. Photo by Phil Kaatz, MSU Extension.

Every year there are reports of combine fires. In a study by Venem, M.T. et al in 2002 of nearly 9,000 grain combine fires in the U.S., it was reported the majority (41.3%) were caused by crop residue. Crop residue and dust accumulate on engines and cracks and crevices through the combine. Managing accumulation is key to decreasing risk of fire starting on the combine. When it comes to preventing combine fires, there are three Ps to remember: prevention, preparation and practicality. 


  • Keep the machine clean. Power wash to remove caked-on grease, oil and crop residue. During harvest, frequently blow dry chaff, leaves and other crop materials off the machine. Leaf blowers are a great tool to remove any materials that have wrapped around bearings, belts and other moving parts. Be sure to check those pockets where wires or lights are housed, and chaff accumulates.
  • Eliminate heat sources. Exhaust systems surfaces, exposed electrical wiring and worn bearings, belts and chains can potentially generate enough heat to start dust and crop residue on fire. Check these areas daily and make repairs if there are problems.
  • Use an infrared thermometer with a laser to check temperatures. Val, J. et al 2019 found that bearings and belts cause 18% of fires. Bearings above temperatures of 180 degrees Fahrenheit can cause damage and if temperatures reach 300 F, the machine should be shut off immediately.
  • Don’t park a hot combine in the shed or shop. After a long day of harvesting, smoldering hot spots may be present in the combine. If those spots suddenly flare up, at least you won’t lose the building!
  • Check over electrical lines; shorts can be caused by bare wires or damage due to rodents, rubbing or insulation melting.
  • Use heat-resistant insulation.
  • John Shutske of the University of Wisconsin suggests mounting a chain to the combine frame long enough to drag in the dirt to discharge static electricity. Combines can generate static electricity that could potentially ignite dry chaff and harvest residue.


  • Keep at least one fully charged, 10-pound ABC dry chemical fire extinguisher with an Underwriter’s Laboratory approval in the combine cab. Have it checked yearly by a professional.
  • Mount a second, larger fire extinguisher and a shovel on the outside of the machine that can be reached from ground level.
  • Recharge partially discharged extinguishers.
  • Have a cell phone.
  • Have a plan. Turn off the engine, get the fire extinguisher and your phone. Get out and get help.
  • Stay a safe distance away.
  • Know when to wait for help.


  • Get out of the combine.
  • Call 911 before beginning to extinguish the fire.
  • Direct extinguishing materials at the base of the fire.
  • Approach the fire with extreme caution. Small fires can flare up quickly with the addition of air (by opening doors or hatches).
  • If fire begins spreading in the field, try to contain it. This may include tilling a strip around the fire to create a barrier.
  • Consider your safety first. Combines can be replaced!
  • In a very dry season, consider having the sprayer filled with water in case a perimeter needs to be made in a field to help contain a small fire.

Be aware of how the weather impacts the three Ps. A study conducted by Venem, M.T., et al found that 48.5% of combine fires occurred between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. when temperatures have peaked and relative humidity is the lowest. So, while you are getting ready for the 2023 harvest, take the right steps to prevent a combine fire, but be prepared just in case and remember, safety first!

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