Fire is a constant hazard. From a welding fire in the shop, to a wiring fire in a piece of equipment to an ignition of grain dust in the grain dryer. Understanding the fire hazards on a farm can be overwhelming. There are just so many fuel sources, so many ways they can ignite. Fire fighters are not always equipped to handle some fires on farm, and the response time is typically longer than for an urban fire crew.
What is the best way to address the dangers of fire on a farm? For any farm the first thing to do is assess your most dangerous areas. Then account for your methods of suppression (water truck, water tank, hoses, fire extinguishers, soil for smothering). View your hazardous areas with a critical eye — what additional hazards exist there? Are fire trucks able to reach your vulnerable areas? What chances are there for spreading or an explosion?
Many fire departments will come and help producers do a fire risk assessment. This is an excellent opportunity for them to become familiar with your farm and how best to deploy their fire fighters and equipment. It is a great time for a producer to see where they have vulnerabilities and where they have assets to reduce the risk of fire starting or spreading.
The variety of fires which can occur on a farming operation have filled books and training courses. For this article let’s touch upon the fires that grain farms can be most vulnerable to.
Heating of stored grains is a big enough fire risk that the Canadian Grain Commission has created a downloadable manual. (Find it on the CGC website at www.grainscanada.gc.ca by searching for “fire.” You’ll find links to documents on “Spoilage and heating of stored agricultural products.) Heating of stored forage and bedding is also cause for fires. The biggest steps to mitigating the risks for both these products is proper storage, monitoring for heating and ensuring they are not near other combustibles.
Drying grain has a number of risks. There are the obvious ones such as the dryer catching on fire or the grain dust igniting as well as others, which are both safety risks and secondary hazards. A recent grain dryer fire illustrated this very well. A dryer full of canola ignited. The local fire department didn’t have the capability to reach the top of the dryer to cool it from the top with their available water. The dryer was also located very close to a transformer. Transformers can explode when exposed to fire and heat. The proximity to the main power and natural gas lines also made the possibilities of turning off those utilities somewhat risky.
The primary fire started in the grain dryer. Spilled burning grain could have (but didn’t) cause a secondary fire. Either scenario could have impacted power, gas and a transformer. An assessment of the fire risk would have identified these risks, which would have changed the approach to the fire by the manager and staff. Responders would have known what to expect prior to arriving on scene.
Grain bins can be victims of fire that impact them, or they can be the origin of the fire from heating grains. In either case the handling of a hot bin, the moving of any dust producing grain and the suppression of fire all have specific hazards that should be handled by trained professionals. The best way to address grain fires is to prevent them.