Combine triggers field fires on consecutive days
The Gaston Fire Department extinguished field fires on back-to-back days July 20 and 21, both ignited by the same combine.
Forest Grove Fire and Rescue spokesman Matt Johnston said that likely dust build-up, heat and a general lack of humidity led to the fires in clover fields south of Forest Grove and north of Gaston.
Monday's fire was just north of the intersection of Patton Valley Road and Highway 47, while Tuesday's was at the end of SW Fluke Drive. Johnston said that his department typically encounters five to 10 similar fires a summer, and while concerning dependent on conditions, both of these proved to be relatively harmless.
In all, he estimated less than two acres was burnt, and more importantly, no one was injured either in the blaze or while extinguishing them. Johnston also said that often fires such as these start as the result of mower malfunction, but these were likely the result of combustible residue built-up in the combine.
"With combines it's usually the really fine dust that they create either cutting the product or processing the product," Johnston said. "Then that dust gets on one of the million moving hot parts on those things, and a fine dust is easy to ignite."
Despite a controllable scenario on these occasions, Johnston said similar fires can be troublesome if conditions lend themselves to such. Wind, terrain, and the type of crop can quickly create potentially dangerous situations during the summer months, so safety is always on the minds of both the department and the farmers in the fields.
"Due to how these things often get started, you can have hot spots spread throughout a field before anyone really realizes it," he said. "And if it's a wheat field, tall wheat, you can get flames 15 to 20 feet high, and they can spread a couple acres every few minutes."
He also noted that while the bulk of combines carry fire extinguishers, often that won't solve the problem if you have hot spots spread throughout a field.
"A lot of these fires smolder, and fire extinguishers only work for flames," Johnston said. "You need water to alleviate the heat to put down potential trouble areas from reigniting."
Considering conditions — temperature, humidity, wind — often dictate potential danger, some suggest farmers should consider conditions when operating potentially dangerous equipment. But Johnston said that's unrealistic, citing timing that's often out of the hands of landowners trying to make a living.
"We don't want to prevent them from making money," he said. "It's just kind of the nature of the beast here with agriculture. Most farmers are good about keeping their equipment clean and safe, but you just can't predict those things sometimes."
Johnston said the combine in question in the two rural Gaston fires was being attended to.
"I talked to them yesterday and they had a portable air compressor out there blowing it out, getting every bit of dust off that thing because they were going to finish that field," Johnston said. "We never got called again, so it must've worked."
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