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Operating Farming Machinery, Equipment and Vehicles

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It's your responsibility to make sure you don't start a fire

  • On hot, dry days, exercise extreme caution before harvesting, grinding, welding, slashing or mowing
  • Avoid driving vehicles and motorbikes through dry grass or crop - the risk from the hot exhaust system is high. Driving vehicles with catalytic converters through dry grass and crops is particularly hazardous
  • Take regular breaks
  • Make it part of your routine to check for straw or grass build-up, and hot bearings
  • Check machinery to ensure that spark arrestors are maintained. 


The most common cause of harvester fires is material collecting on hot engine components such as the manifold, exhaust and turbocharger.

The key to avoiding harvester fires is diligence in clean-down and inspection. Postpone paddock work during the highest fire-risk periods.

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Preventing Harvest Fires

How can farmers approach their harvest season with the aim of reducing their own risk of fire and avoiding the devastating economic consequences of fire? What are the factors that consistently contribute to harvest fires - particularly those involving headers?

Kevin had been reflecting on his own personal experience of harvest fires on his land and his neighbours’ properties. With time on his hands, Kevin undertook research to understand common causes of harvest fires, new farming technology and new ways farmers can protect their land and livestock from fires during harvest season.

Kevin’s research involved reports from the USA, Europe and Australia. He had discussions with West Australian-based agricultural publisher Kondinin Group and visited a number of farmers in the Wimmera. Armed with this research, Kevin approached his farming neighbours to assist in trialling techniques and equipment that he had researched. They experimented with harvesting in paddocks at different angles and speeds, depending on wind direction, as well as riding in the back of a header to observe the interactions between dust and potential heat sources such as the manifold.

Kevin was able to ascertain the point of ignition and the factors contributing to a fire starting within the header engine. This video shares information on mechanics, weather conditions, tiers of emissions, heat sources, Voluntary Harvest Guidelines, recommended practices for operators, property owners’ responsibilities, insurance and harvest fire planning.

In this video retired Farmer and CFA Volunteer Kevin Bolwell, of Horsham in Victoria’s Wimmera region, explains the findings of his research into header fires and provides practical advice for farmers and harvesting contractors.

Thank you for watching, you are invited to participate in a short survey. The survey will take approximately 5 minutes to complete. All responses will not be linked or identifiable to those participating in the survey.

The purpose of this survey is to collect feedback from the public to improve the quality of the Country Fire Authority’s (CFA’s) Farm Fire Safety initiative in Victoria.



Restrictions during the Fire Danger Period

Vehicles and motorbikes propelled with an internal combustion engine must not contact any type of vegetation unless they are fitted with a system that takes all of the exhaust from the engine through a silencing device.

Machinery incorporating a heat engine in contact with, or within nine metres of crop, grass, stubble, weeds, undergrowth or other vegetation must be:

  • Free from faults and mechanical defects that could cause an outbreak of fire
  • Fitted with an approved spark arrester
  • Carry fire suppression equipment: this can be a knapsack spray pump or water fire extinguisher. It must be in working order, fully charged with water and have a minimum capacity of nine litres

Tractors fitted with a turbocharger or an exhaust-aspirated aircleaner do not require a spark arrestor.

Cutting, welding and grinding equipment must be operated with:

  • A fire-resistant shield or guard in place to stop sparks and hot material
  • An area of at least 1.5 m clear of flammable material or sufficiently wet down
  • A water supply or an effective water knapsack of at least nine litres capacity available
  • Cut-offs and electrode stubs placed directly in a fireproof container

Total Fire Ban

On a Total Fire Ban day, the use of fire (or equipment that produces a naked flame) is banned.

Chainsaws, lawn mowers and other equipment

Equipment with non-vehicle heat engines can be used in green vegetation without any conditions.

In vegetation that is not green, this equipment should only be used in the open if fitted with a spark arrester. One of the two following conditions must also be followed:

  • The area around the heat engine must be clear of flammable material for a radius of at least 3m
  • Someone is in attendace at all times (unless operating with a special exemption). 


  • The person attending the fire has a working water fire extinguisher or knapsack of at least nine litres capacity.

Chainsaws, plant/grass trimmers or lawn mowers can be used in green vegetation without any conditions.

Chainsaws, plant or grass trimmers or lawn mowers used in vegetation that is not green, must be:

  • Free from faults and mechanical defects that could cause an outbreak of fire
  • Fitted with an efficient spark arrester
  • Have an area of at least three metres around the machine cleared of flammable material.

Fire suppression equipment required:

  • A knapsack spray pump, in working order, fully charged with water, with a capacity of not less than 9 litres
  • A water fire extinguisher, in working order, fully charged with water, with a capacity of not less than 9 litres.  

Harvester safety checklist   

  • Equip your machine with at least two fire extinguishers
  • Avoid overloading electrical circuits
  • Use the battery isolation switch when the harvester is parked
  • Use vermin deterrents as rodents can chew through electrical insulation.     

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