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Fire chief warns of dry harvest conditions

Lori Sorenson

It’s been several weeks since Rock County received significant rain, and a dry harvest has local fire officials on alert.

Luverne Fire Chief Dave Van Batavia and Hills Fire Chief Jared Rozeboom are urging farmers to take measures to prevent field and equipment fires.

“The No. 1 preventive method is to keep machinery clean,” Van Batavia said.

“Crop residue and chaff can find their ways into cracks and crevasses of machinery and can come in contact with heat and ignition sources.”

For these reasons, Van Batavia said it’s important to power wash or use an air compressor to clean out or blow off equipment.

The No. 2 preventative action, he said, is to keep equipment properly maintained.

“Worn bearings, over tightened belts, exposed electrical wires or leaky fuel lines can all contribute to a fire,” Van Batavia said.

“Make sure heat sources like the manifold, muffler, and turbocharger are properly working and free of leaks.”

At the end of the day, he said it’s important to scan for hot spots or smoldering material, and Rozeboom said it’s good practice to pause midway through the day for maintenance.

“If you take 10 to 15 minutes do to that, it might save you a couple days of down time,” Rozeboom said.

“A lot of today’s equipment has complicated wiring and technology that can get extremely hot, to it’s important to keep debris clear.”

He said he’d also recommend lubing gears and bearings midway through the day as a precaution.

Meanwhile, the local fire chiefs urge farmers to keep working fire extinguishers handy in their combines.

“All combines should have an easily accessible and fully charged 10-pound fire extinguisher,” Van Batavia said.

“A second fire extinguisher can be mounted on the outside of the machine at ground level while even a third can be back in the service truck or tractor and wagon.”

He said partially empty fire extinguishers should be refilled or replaced.

“Check the pressure gauge. If the needle is still within the green zone, it is functional,” Van Batavia said.

“Shake the extinguishers to ensure that the powder inside the extinguisher has not become settled.”

Rozeboom also encourages farmers to use regular water extinguishers that can be easily refilled.

“These work great for a debris fire on a manifold,” he said.

He and Van Batavia encourage farmers to keep a tractor and disk nearby to aid in containing a field fire.

“If a fire does erupt and starts spreading within the field, having a disk or some form of tillage equipment nearby can be used to create a perimeter or barrier around the fire,” he said.

“Farmers are a big help at field fires with their equipment. Many times we can focus on the source of the fire while they knock down the field with machinery that can move much faster.”

Firefighters often witness the power of neighborly help in times of need.

“It doesn’t take long for the word to spread of a fire and neighboring farmers are on their way to help,” Van Batavia said.

Finally, they said it’s important for farmers to pay close attention to the weather.

“Days that are forecast to have high temperatures, low humidity and high winds significantly increase the potential for fire danger,” Van Batavia.

“Only attempt to put out the fire if you feel safe doing so. It is more important to put worker protection first before saving equipment that can always be replaced.”