OMAFRA Report:Farmers should be ready to avoid, prepare for and react to harvest fires

A weekly report prepared by the staff of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).  If you require further information, regarding this report, call the Elora Resource Centre at 519-846-0941.  Office hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For technical information, call the Agricultural Information Contact Centre at 1-877-424-1300 or visit the OMAFRA website:


Wheat harvest 2020 is right around the corner. The conditions are dry in those fields. Once the rush starts it will be “all hands-on deck” but remember the slew of harvest/field fires that occurred in July 2016/17/18 under similar dry conditions. Harvest fires result in a financial, emotional and environmental burden to the farm and risks the lives of farm personal, local fire departments and the public and uses firefighting resources. Make sure you are prepared before harvest begins!

Field fires can happen in any crop and at any time but tend to be more prevalent in mid-summer during cereal harvest. For a field fire to start, combustible materials must be ignited under the right conditions. An ignition source could be a spark from a harvest machine or heat from a worn bearing. Combustible materials include the crop or residue that is accumulated within the machine, windrows of straw or stubble in the field. Harvest fires are most likely to occur and spread rapidly during dry and hot periods, but they can even occur in damp conditions.

To reduce the likelihood and impact of a harvest fire, develop a plan which includes Avoidance, Preparation and Response components. This plan should be written down, shared with staff on an annual basis, revised when a new field or equipment is purchased/rented and posted somewhere easily accessible (such as the shop or equipment cab). You can even share and get feedback on the plan from your local fire department.

Elements of your plan could include:

1. Avoidance – prevent a field fire from occurring, Have a plan. Creating a plan, review the plan, practice the procedures of the plan. Doing so makes you more aware of risks around you:

– keep equipment well maintained and in good working order;

– ensure equipment is clean internally and externally including the working areas of the equipment, the operator area and the external mirrors (i.e. to increase visibility);

– avoid parking equipment, including trucks, on stubble; and

– use caution when pulling equipment into the field with the pickup and remove the truck from the field quickly.

2. Preparation – in case a fire occurs:

– ensure that 911 address markers are in place and are legible/visible to assist fire response;

– know the location of each field where you are harvesting including the 911 address and other directions should a 911 sign not be present at the field entrance for quick relay of the information to first responders;

– all field locations should be documented and everyone should know the 911 location of the current harvest location (including custom harvesters);

– have the GPS location of field entrances recorded and organized on smartphones or train people how to use the “drop GPS pin” function on their smartphones (not all fire crews are equipped to receive GPS pins, but the practice is increasing.) GPS pins may be sent directly to personal phones of responders if they have the phone number of the person at the scene, supply this phone number to the 911 operator;

– identify multiple exit points from every field;

– be aware of the seasonal conditions. Is it hot, dry and windy?;

– be vigilant and check frequently for fires that can start behind your equipment;

– have a fire extinguisher available in all equipment. Ensure the fire extinguishers are properly charged and inspected regularly;

– have a larger sprayer nurse tank filled with water, with the pump fully fueled and hitched to a tractor sitting in the field;

– a full liquid manure spreader can replace the water tank;

– have a large tillage implement like a disc or cultivator hooked up and sitting in the field ready to deploy quickly in order to build a bare soil fire break ahead of a fire;

– ensure that all fields have “ready” access for fire trucks. If access is impeded, tell 911 when reporting the fire;

– identify all nearby sources of water (ponds, hydrants, streams) that fire services can use to fill tankers, have these mapped and included with your “plan”;

– prepare a binder to be placed in all equipment and office that includes field locations, field access points, water sources, emergency numbers and response procedures; and

– share the “plan” with your team, including custom harvesters and ensure they know it.

3. Response – what to do if a fire occurs:


– provide clear and concise address and/or direction to the field;

– be able to supply the location of the field entrance relative to the closest marked 911 roadside address post;

– try to have a person familiar with the fire location meet the fire service at the farm entrance, especially where the fire location cannot be observed easily from the farm entrance;

– follow all directions provided by first responders.

– notify any farm staff on-site before attempting to extinguish the fire;


– only deploy the water tank or tillage implement if you can do so safely and quickly after the fire has started; and

– remember fires spread rapidly, and can change direction quickly, particularly under windy and hot conditions, be observant of conditions and able to react quickly.

NOTE: 2020 – Rural Fire Departments have heightened concern about COVID-19. They are concerned that the virus could quarantine their entire fire hall in the event of a positive test and make emergency response delayed or unavailable for significant periods of time.

They respectfully request that “social distancing” advice be respected as much as possible during an emergency call.

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Written by Ian McDonald, Crop Innovations Specialist; Vicki Hilborn, Engineer Program Coordinator and Alex Barrie, Project Engineer; OMAFRA