Farm fires cost lives and many dollars each year in America. October is Fire Prevention Month and it is a good time to refresh fire safety rules for the farm.

Fires need three things to burn – air, heat and something to set it off. Preventing this combination reduces the risk of fire.

“Common causes of tractor and machinery fires on farms include defects in the fuel or ignition system, improper method of refueling, overheated engines and sparks from the exhaust,” said Dr. Jesse LaPrade, a farm and green industry safety specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

“Operators should refuel with extreme care. Watch for and repair leaks in fuel lines, carburetors, pumps and filters and keep exhaust systems in good condition to avoid sparks. Keeping engines properly tuned will help avoid backfiring and keeping machinery properly lubricated will minimize friction.

Flammables Found on Farms

Gasoline, diesel fuel, LP gas, degreasing solvents and certain paints are a few of the flammables found on farms. Keep these liquids away from open flames and motors that might spark. To prevent sparks from static electricity, LaPrade said, “always place containers on the ground or pavement and keep the pump nozzle in contact with the can while filling. Clean up spills right away and put oily rags in a tightly covered metal container. If you get solvents on you, change your clothes immediately.“

Vapors might still be present in containers that held flammable liquids so store them in well-ventilated areas away from heat. Be sure all containers for flammable liquids are clearly marked. Always read and heed directions on product containers and follow recommended safety precautions.

Spontaneous Combustion Issues

Another cause of fires on farms is spontaneous combustion. These fires can occur any time and many such fires are beyond control at the time of detection. Materials, such as vegetable and animal oils, soft coal, vegetable and animal fibers such as flax, jute, wood and hay, can, under certain conditions, heat spontaneously. Hay and grass silage have been implicated in many high-loss fires.

LaPrade said to harvest loose or chopped hay at low enough moisture content to prevent molding, a key factor in heat generation. Avoid storing wet hay. Check stored hay for warm spots. If hay temperature is warmer than when it was first stored, watch it closely. If the temperature reaches 175 degrees F, get the hay out or divide it into small shallow stacks.

With grass silage, the problem is too little moisture, LaPrade added. A fine chop permits the material to be packed more firmly in both trench and upright silos. Also, a silo designed to be sealed should be kept closed, except for loading or unloading. Failure to do so has resulted in disastrous fires and even explosions. Silage danger signs include heat, release of moisture vapor or steaming, smoke or a charred tobacco smell. If they appear, call your fire department and silo dealer for instructions.

Heating Equipment Precautions

Many farms use a variety of heating equipment. Each type has certain safety precautions that must be taken. When heating with wood, test and clean each chimney before the heating season begins. Check for leaks in the chimney by building a smudge, covering the top of the flue and then examining the whole length of the chimney to check for escaping smoke. Inspect wood stoves for cracks or weakened parts at least once a year. Never use gasoline, kerosene or outdoor grill starter fluids to start fires in wood stoves or fireplaces. Use paper or kindling to start fires in these places. Protect kerosene or oil-burning heaters so that they will not tip over or come near flammable materials. Also watch for carbon monoxide poisoning.

Shops, garages, machine sheds and barns often are cluttered with unnecessary accumulations of items that can add fuel to a fire. Often, these items are located near sources of ignition. By reducing the amount of unneeded items and rearranging the space, the fire risk can be reduced considerably.

Smoking Hazards

LaPrade said cigarettes and cigars cause many fires in the United States annually. If you smoke, keep plenty of large, deep ashtrays or receptacles handy, obey no-smoking signs, don’t smoke in places with flammable materials, never smoke while refueling and do not lay lighted cigarettes on wooden tables or workbenches.Make sure matches and tobacco products are extinguished before discarding them. Smoke with caution when operating farm vehicles and equipment. Equip tractors and combines with ashtrays.

During Fire Prevention month, take the time to check equipment, machinery, storage facilities and work areas for fire risks. Make corrections when needed and help prevent farm fires.

LaPrade reminds consumers that properly working fire extinguishers should be placed in fire prone areas, such as storage buildings, barns, garages and workshops.