Un­der fire

Har­ri­son Hunkin looks at how you can best pro­tect your prop­erty and ma­chin­ery this fire sea­son

Farms & Farm Machinery - - Contents -

How best to pro­tect your prop­erty this fire sea­son

Sum­mer is here and, for many of us who call this sun­burnt land home, this means fire sea­son.

With the Bureau of Me­te­o­rol­ogy’s (BOM) lat­est rain­fall out­look pre­dict­ing drier con­di­tions and warmer than av­er­age day and night-time tem­per­a­tures, we could be star­ing down a po­ten­tially harsh 2017 fire sea­son.

The Aus­tralian fire sea­sons dif­fer across states but the vast ma­jor­ity of the coun­try ex­pe­ri­ences fire sea­son dur­ing spring and sum­mer, the BOM says.

A shift to­wards a weak La Niña could in­crease the chance of heat­waves for south-east­ern Aus­tralia, ac­cord­ing to the Bureau’s lat­est cli­mate re­port.

Vic­to­rian Coun­try Fire Au­thor­ity (CFA) com­mu­nity ed­u­ca­tion co­or­di­na­tor Kevin Sleep has been spread­ing the im­por­tance of fire and farm safety lead­ing into this year’s sea­son, be­liev­ing the Vic­to­rian har­vest sea­son could see many fires.

“There is po­ten­tial for a num­ber of har­vest fires this sea­son, so what we’ve been do­ing is run­ning a fairly big cam­paign across the north-west re­gion [of Vic­to­ria] to try and elim­i­nate the num­ber of header fires,” he says.

“We are also look­ing to re­duce the im­pact of these header fires so that, if this does oc­cur, at least the farm­ers are a lit­tle bit more pre­pared and have done some plan­ning,” Sleep says.

“Last year we had about 45 re­ported fires – that’s when 000 was called and the bri­gade was ac­ti­vated – but there could have been a num­ber of others that were put out with­out in­volv­ing the fire ser­vices.”

Sleep says in or­der to com­bat the threat of fire, point one for farm pro­tec­tion dur­ing fire sea­son is to have a plan.

“That plan should be com­mu­ni­cated to fam­ily, to con­trac­tors work­ing on your farm and also to your neigh­bours, so every­one in the vicin­ity knows ex­actly what’s go­ing on and how they’re go­ing to op­er­ate through­out the year,” he says.

It is also ex­tremely im­por­tant that farm­ers are equipped for fires by own­ing a com­bi­na­tion of tools and equip­ment, Sleep says.

“Many farm­ers have what we call ‘pri­vate units’ – that can be ei­ther a 400-litre tank mounted on the back of a ute with a pump and hose reel or it could be a trailer-mounted unit with a sim­i­lar prin­ci­ple,” he ex­plains.

“Farm­ers should be equipped with pro­tec­tive cloth­ing, shov­els and fire-fight­ing hoes,” Sleep adds. “We also ask the farm­ers to op­er­ate on a cer­tain UHF chan­nel.” (Dis­trict 18 op­er­ates on chan­nel 18, and so on.)

The CFA ex­pert sug­gests that farm­ers cre­ate buf­fers be­tween farm bound­aries to slow the spread of fires.

“What farm­ers can do is, when they do the first cou­ple of rounds around the pad­dock, they can drop the ma­chine as low as pos­si­ble and prac­ti­cal and take the crop off at around that 100mm height,” he says.

“What that does is, if you have a 40-foot front on the front of your header and you do two laps, then there’s an 80-foot strip that has a re­duced fuel load that can slow up a fire – it also may be an op­por­tu­nity for the CFA to set up an at­tack line.

“While a fire will still burn across it, it won’t burn across it at the same in­ten­sity,” Sleep adds.

He also sug­gests a crop ro­ta­tion plan for farm­ers at risk of fire, propos­ing the plant­ing of two dif­fer­ent crops next to each other to po­ten­tially slow down the spread of fire.

“An­other op­tion is work­ing out your sow­ing ro­ta­tion; you might have wheat in one pad­dock and on the other side of that pad­dock could be canola or peas,” Sleep says.

“So if a fire does start, it might burn through the wheat crop quickly, but then when it hits the canola it will burn slower, or if it hits a pea pad­dock it will again burn a lot slower, so your crop ro­ta­tion could pro­vide some vari­a­tion and im­pact on how quickly the fire is go­ing to spread.”

CFA FIRE SEA­SON CHECKLIST

• Have a plan for bad fire risk days that in­cludes your an­i­mals – make sure every­one on the farm knows what to do

Your crop ro­ta­tion could pro­vide some vari­a­tion and im­pact on how quickly the fire is go­ing to spread

• Re­duce fuel loads such as grasses and trees around as­sets

(house blocks, sheds and fences)

• Cre­ate a heav­ily grazed area with a wa­ter sup­ply for stock • Seal all gaps on build­ings to stop em­bers get­ting in­side – this

is the most com­mon way to lose a prop­erty

• Check all ma­chin­ery to make sure it’s clean and in good work­ing or­der – many farm fires are caused by poorly main­tained equip­ment and ma­chin­ery

• Have a sys­tem for stor­ing and mon­i­tor­ing hay – pur­chase a

mois­ture me­tre if nec­es­sary

• Pre­pare fire­fight­ing equip­ment such as wa­ter fire ex­tin­guish­ers or knap­sack spray pumps. Have it ready for any­one us­ing farm equip­ment or ma­chin­ery, and make sure they know how to use it

• Make a list of le­gal re­stric­tions on burn­ing off and us­ing ma­chin­ery that ap­ply to your prop­erty and dis­play it so fam­ily and em­ploy­ees can re­fer to it eas­ily

• Check your prop­erty name or num­ber is clearly vis­i­ble so that the emer­gency ser­vices can find it quickly when ap­proach­ing the en­trance

• En­sure easy ac­cess for fire trucks by clear­ing veg­e­ta­tion, sign­post­ing dead ends or cre­at­ing turn­ing cir­cles. In ad­di­tion, make sure that wa­ter sup­plies are clearly marked for emer­gency ser­vices.

HAR­VEST FIRE PREVEN­TION

• Dust in the engine bay can be ig­nited by the ex­haust man­i­fold, es­pe­cially dust from lentils or crops af­fected by fun­gal dis­ease. This is the pri­mary cause of header fires

• If clumps of crop residue are ac­cu­mu­lat­ing around the engine, check the ra­di­a­tor in­take seals and self-clean­ing sys­tem are in good work­ing or­der

• If your header is start­ing fires reg­u­larly, back off the ma­chine’s

ground speed to re­duce ex­haust man­i­fold tem­per­a­tures • Har­vest in a di­rec­tion to min­imise dust in­take

PRE­VENT­ING HAYSTACK FIRES

The ma­jor causes of haystack fires are: sparks from ma­chin­ery and equip­ment; em­bers from nearby fires and light­ning strikes; and spon­ta­neous ig­ni­tion.

“Hay can be­come hot enough to catch fire if it be­comes damp be­fore, dur­ing or af­ter bal­ing, or if it’s baled while it’s still green,” the CFA writes.

“This is from a com­plex se­ries of bi­o­log­i­cal and chem­i­cal pro­cesses in­volv­ing bac­te­ria and fungi in the plant ma­te­rial.

“If heat­ing goes un­de­tected, the in­ter­nal bale tem­per­a­tures will keep ris­ing, and once tem­per­a­tures reach about 70C they can keep in­creas­ing to the point of spon­ta­neous ig­ni­tion [ap­prox­i­mately 180C].”

Signs of heat­ing hay are:

• Steam ris­ing from haystacks

• Con­den­sa­tion or cor­ro­sion un­der hayshed roof­ing

• Mould growth in or on bales

• Un­usual odours (burn­ing, musty, pipe to­bacco or caramel) • Slump­ing in sec­tions of haystack.

A farmer watches on as a fire rages near Port Lin­coln, SA. Photo: Robert Lang Photography/Mo­ment/Getty Im­ages

Photo: PhilMS­par­row/iS­tock/Getty Im­ages Photo: FLPA/John Eve­son/Cor­bis/Getty Im­ages

A burnt-out trac­tor af­ter a fire in Mar­garet River, WA. Vic­to­rian CFA mem­bers put out a grass­fire in Lan­g­ley

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