What to Do If Your Tractor Catches on Fire

We want to help you understand what to do if your tractor catches on fire.


If you do not feel that you understand these steps, or can perform them safely, consult your tractor dealer or local mechanic. Also always consult your tractor owner’s manual for model-specific information.


Let’s get started.



Instant Danger


It can happen in an instant.


You are happily working in your field. And suddenly you smell smoke. You get a pit in your stomach --- that sinking feeling we all know far too well. Something is wrong. You see flames and fire coming from the tractor. An emergency has sprung up from seemingly nowhere.




Next, you exit the tractor wishing you were closer to your cell phone and fire extinguisher. You have neither.


As you turn around again, you see bright orange flames and smoke pouring out of the engine compartment. You may have been wise enough to carry a fire extinguisher and were able to put out the flames yourself. Or you may be too late and now must watch your tractor, worth thousands of dollars, burn right in front of you. And hopefully, nobody was injured.


This one incident alone could cost a life, a severe injury, and even thousands of dollars in property and equipment damage.


Does this scene sound far-fetched or a bit alarmist? Unfortunately, it is not far-fetched and happens quite a bit.


In fact --- tractor and combine fires are a major problem. They cause over $20 million in property losses each year. They also cause the loss of millions of dollars more due to lost time and downed crops during the busy harvest season.


Tractor and combine fires not only cause huge property, financial, and time losses --- they also cause near 50 serious injuries and at least one death each year.



Prevention


To prevent tractor fires, an operator must be properly educated.


There are two keys:

  • Prevention

  • Preparation


Fires require three things: (1.) Air, (2.) Material to Burn, and a (3.) Heat Source.


It is impossible to eliminate air around a tractor. So, you need to make sure to keep the tractor clean of possible fire-causing materials. You must also eliminate all the possible sources of heat that could lead to a fire.



Cleanliness and Maintenance Let’s begin by discussing cleanliness.


Begin every harvest season with a clean tractor. Pay special attention to the engine and the engine compartment. Roughly 75% of all tractor fires start there.


Use a pressure washer to remove all oil, caked-on grease, and any crop residue. A clean engine will typically run cooler, operate more efficiently, and greatly reduce your chance of a fire.



After starting the season, make sure you frequently use compressed air to blow away any dry chaff, leaves, and other materials that are on the tractor. Also clear off any wrapped plant materials on the bearings, belts, and any other moving parts.



Read your tractor’s operator's manual. Follow all the instructions and schedules for lubrication and routine maintenance and service.


If you notice any leaking fuel or oil hoses, fittings, or metal lines --- make sure to replace or repair them immediately. They can create an emergency very quickly.



Eliminate Heat Sources There are several heat sources that can cause a tractor fire.


The most common sources are the exhaust system surfaces that contact any flammable material. Make sure your exhaust system (manifold, muffler, turbocharger) is in good condition and 100% leak-free.


When checking your oil and performing other daily maintenance --- scan all the exposed electrical wiring for damage or signs of deterioration. Replace any worn or malfunctioning electrical component with the proper parts from your dealer.


If you are blowing fuses, or have a circuit that intermittently cuts out, it is a sign that there is a short or loose connection in the system. The arcing electrical wires on a tractor will generate extremely high temperatures.


Also watch for worn bearings, belts, and chains. A badly worn bearing can glow red-hot. Any rubber belt subjected to intense heat from a worn part can burst into flames in an instant.



Preparation Even with the best intentions and proper maintenance --- a tractor fire can still occur.


You should have a fully-charged ten-pound ABC dry chemical fire extinguisher on your tractor.



Make sure the extinguisher has an Underwriter's Laboratory approval. Having two fire extinguishers on the tractor is even better --- in case one malfunctions or loses pressure.


Keep one in the cab and one where it can be reached from the ground.




Check your extinguishers periodically. Pay special attention to the pressure gauge. To function effectively, the gauge must show adequate pressure to expel the powder inside.