Fires on farm equipment or in farm buildings are no fun for the property owner or for the fire departments called in to put out the blaze.
How to prevent those fires and how to limit the damage to property and injury to humans when fires break out was the subject of a presentation by Seymour volunteer Fire Department Chief Dennis Laskowski at the spring meeting of the Outagamie County Forage Council.
Laskowski, who is also a sixth generation dairy farmer, pointed out that fuel, heat and oxygen are needed to sustain a fire. On farms, the fuels include ammonia nitrates, other fertilizers, hay, grain, wood, paper, straw, trash and plastics and other bags, along with combines, tractors and self-propelled choppers, he noted. A stone striking a moving part in a combine or chopper can also start a fire, he added.
Raccoons, rats and other rodents can chew on or cut wires, creating the possibility of a fire. Laskowski also mentioned the leaking of diesel fuel, gasoline or lubricants onto materials or vehicle parts where a spark could set off a fire. To deal with the latter points, he recommended regular power washing of motorized farm vehicles to remove dust and any leaked lubricants or fuels.
With fires in combines accounting for some of the fire department calls to farms, Laskowski described some of the uncertainties and variables that apply in those incidents. The fire could have started in the motor, a belt, a pulley, hydraulic hose or crop material that was being moved through the machine.
In addition to its starting point in a combine, there is the possibility the fire could reach a fuel tank containing 200 or more gallons or the grain tank, Laskowski said. If the safety of the combine operator isn't already in danger, he suggested the grain auger unloader be activated so one of the potential fuels for expanding the fire is no longer available.
Having the grain in the tank burn creates quite a mess, Laskowski commented. Because of the possibility of ignition of a fuel tank or the grain, it is difficult for firefighters to determine how close to get when dealing with a combine fire.
An ignited fire spreads either by radiation, conduction or convection, Laskowski said. An example of radiation is the heat from one building or other burning entity being so high that it starts a fire on an adjacent building or item.
Conduction occurs through a pipe or chute as sparks or heat is carried by air flow (draft or wind) to a new location. The normal movement of a combine or tractor can cause conduction, Laskowski noted. Convection is the transfer of heat from the superheated gas from an ongoing fire, he added.
Laskowski strongly recommends having well-maintained fire extinguishers available at all the places where a fire is most likely to start. Another essential element is being trained on how to operate a chemical or water fire extinguisher.
Laskowski, who is also a member of the Wisconsin arson investigation task force, referred to Class A, B and C fires. Those distinctions apply to what is burning — paper to electrical equipment and everything in between.