How to prevent combine fires during harvest time

19 July 2022

A picture of a tractor pulling a combine with fire blazing in a field of harvested crops

Jason Lawley, deputy divisional commander of Lincolnshire Fire Service, provides guidance for farmers on preventing combine fires and what to do in the event a fire breaks out.

Every year combines catch fire during harvest destroying machines, putting buildings and crops at risk, and disrupting harvest operations.

On one day alone in 2018, Lincolnshire Fire Service dealt with 12 combine fires. Jason's message to farmers is to be proactive and above all never to be complacent about the risk of fire on farm. 

He says: "All farms are covered by fire safety legislation and must carry out a fire risk assessment. There is a lot of help and advice online and most fire services will have template assessment forms on their website that can be used by farmers.

"If the worst happens and there is a fire, having an emergency plan and staff trained on what to do is important.

"If you need to call the fire service, ensure your directions are clear to where any fire is. The What3Words app is used by most fire services and can make a real difference in getting fire engines to the right place quickly.

"Having information to hand in a folder with farm plans, details of dangerous substances such as chemicals and fertiliser and how to access water supplies is vital."

“My number one piece of advice is that no matter what happens the priority is always protecting life. Only attempt to fight a fire when it is safe to do so.”
Jason Lawley, Lincolnshire Fire Service

Tips to prevent combine fires

Most combine fires can be prevented or limited by following these steps. 


  • Keep up to date with maintenance in line with the manufacturers service schedules.
  • Fit a fire suppression system that has P mark status to contain, extinguish and prevent fire.
  • Clean out regularly – clear dust and chaff from hot spots in combines and balers and check over machines when work finishes at the end of the day.
  • Use an air compressor to blow debris away from the combine. A mobile compressor or one fitted to the combine can be used:
    • Check exit pressure – 30psi/2.21 bar is effective at cleaning
    • Wear eye and respiratory protection to protect from dust
    • Never point an airline at a person to remove dust from clothing as there is a risk air can be injected under the skin resulting in bubbles in the blood stream.
  • Always switch off engines and check that moving parts have stopped before clearing blockages or carrying out maintenance.
  • Always stop to investigate hot-running engines, bearings or wisps of smoke.

Worker safety

  • Have a fire plan in place with a system for keeping in contact with lone workers and anyone living or working on farm.
  • Keep mobile phones charged and on the person at all times.
  • Check that drivers know the locations of all overhead lines and the height of their vehicles to pass under safely.
  • Use What3Words to help fire and rescue find you in an emergency.

Be prepared

  • Keep a fire extinguisher on the combine and make sure it is regularly serviced in line with the manufacturer’s instructions.
    • If there is a fire in a combine and an extinguisher does not put it out in 20 to 30 seconds, then it is time to move to safety and make way for the fire service.
  • Have a bowser filled with water, tractor, and plough ready to create a fire break if needed.

Remember to drink water, keep hydrated, take regular breaks, and monitor for fatigue when working in hot weather.

Fire risk assessment

The fire risk assessment has five steps:

1. Identify hazards. These could be sources of ignition such as welding or grinding equipment. Look for sources of fuel. These can be anything that burns, from hay to petrol. Dangerous substances such as chemicals, fertiliser and asbestos must be identified as well.

2. Identify people at risk and responsible persons. People at risk will include employees, visitors, children and other vulnerable people, and fire fighters who respond to an emergency. The responsible person(s) are those who are responsible for implementing the risk assessment, such as the farm owner or farm manager. 

3. Evaluate the risk of fire occurring and the risk to people. Wherever possible remove or reduce fire hazards. This could be by installing smoke and fire alarms, firefighting equipment and identifying escape routes.

4. Record significant findings and actions you have taken. Prepare an emergency plan. Inform and instruct anyone who might be affected and provide training.

5. Review the assessment on a regular basis to make sure it is up to date.

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