Until an engineering solution is developed the things producers can do to reduce the risk of fires in sunflowers include:

  • Reduce rotor speeds while opening the concaves until a few seeds are left in the head. The less aggressive the machine is to the crop the smaller the volume of fine dust produced.
  • Reduce the groundspeed to unload the machine. Running at a fraction of capacity is not what producers want to do, but will reduce the temperature of the exhaust system as the engine operates at lower pressures and consumes less fuel.
  • Keep the header as high as practical to take in as little stalk residue as possible. More MOG (material other than grain) means more dust.
  • Keep the engine compartment and especially the exhaust system as clean a possible.
  • Add a "chimney" to the cooling air intake to induct air that is above the cloud of dust that surrounds the machine. These fine aerosol dusts are suspected to be the origin of many of the machine fires.

Humburg reminds producers that despite their best intentions and good maintenance, a fire on a tractor or combine can still occur. Smoldering fires in layers of dust may best be extinguished with water. For larger fires, the best source of protection for a combine is at least one fully charged 10-lb. ABC dry-chemical fire extinguisher.

"Only select extinguishers with Underwriters Laboratory approval and have two extinguishers on the machine in case one malfunctions or loses pressure," Humburg says. "Keep one mounted in the cab, and one where it can be reached from the ground. If a fire does break out on a machine, quickly shut off the engine, grab an extinguisher, get out, and get help."

Older machines with primarily steel construction could often be saved with a fire extinguisher. New model machines with poly tanks, panels and shields, can quickly ignite beyond the capacity of a fire extinguisher.

"If in doubt don't risk your life; step away and call for help," Humburg says.