Dry field conditions, high temperatures and wind gusts of 30 to 35 miles per led to field fires across most of the state in recent days.
The National Weather Service, in fact, issued a Red Flag Warning last week for much of Nebraska. The warning notes that, "Fires will start quickly, spread furiously, and burn intensely."
That's what happened Oct. 7 southwest of York when fire in adjacent fields of cornstalks and unharvested soybeans spread quickly because of high winds. Farmers and local volunteer fire departments battled the blaze for much of the day.
In addition, a monster fire in rangeland and cropland in Logan County earlier last week caused an estimated $4 million in damages to crops, rangeland, hay bales and structures, including one house. According to news reports, 5,000 acres of crops and pastures were damaged or destroyed.
A spark from a combine reportedly started the fire that raced nine miles before it hit the South Loup River north of Stapleton.
Weekend moisture provided some relief, but authorities are cautioning farmers about harvesting when winds are high and conditions dry.
Dave Morgan, UNL farm safety specialist, recommends several steps producers can take to lower the risk of field fires and the resulting damage to combines and yield:
- Keep equipment clean and in good repair. When done for the day, producers should take time to clean machinery thoroughly with an air compressor, power washer or even a broom to dislodge any crop residue or chaff from the combine.
- Fix any fuel, hydraulic or oil leaks. When it's this windy, vegetative matter breaks up into really fine material that readily accumulates on oil and fuel leaks. This creates a source of solid and liquid fuel. From there, it doesn't take much to start the fire--a dry bearing or a slipping belt can quickly heat up or spark.
- Check fluid levels and carefully refill, being careful not to spill any oil or fuel on the equipment. But don't overfill fluid reservoirs. With high temperatures in the mid-80s, oil expands and may "burp" out the vent, creating another fuel source for fire.
- Carry at least one, preferably two, fully charged 10-pound ABC fire extinguishers on all equipment. (Be sure to have fire extinguishers inspected annually and refilled as necessary.)
"We recommend having a couple extra air pressure water extinguishers ready on the combine or in the pickup," Morgan says.
A dry chemical extinguisher will exclude air from the flame, but it doesn't cool the source of the fire, leaving hot, smoldering chaff, crop residue and dirt that could start another fire. A pressurized water extinguisher, with a tablespoon of dish soap added to improve spray, will cool and saturate the source.
"A five-gallon air pressured water extinguisher would weigh about 40 pounds and should be manageable. We recommend keeping one in a nearby pickup and on the combine, if possible," Morgan says.