A high-yield harvest could be more of a curse than a blessing for some of West Australia’s Great Southern farmers, as emergency services respond to a rise in equipment fires.

Key points:

  • Equipment fires are on the rise on Great Southern farms due to increased workload
  • Emergency services responded to five fires in a week
  • Farmers are being urged to increase maintenance and have a fire plan ready

Emergency services have attended five fires in the region in the last week, all originating from harvest equipment.

Four of the fires started within headers, and one from a chaser bin.

Chief bushfire control officer for the Shire of Narrogin, Pip Porter, saw the destruction firsthand.

“For me it was a bit scary, but I think it would have been a lot scarier for the farmer to see their machine go up like that,” Mr Porter said.

“When the actual machine goes up there is a lot of black smoke because of the tyres.”

Mr Porter has held various incident response roles for the Shire of Narrogin.

He said this season is already one of the worst he’s experienced.

“It’s very unusual, we’ve had whole seasons where we don’t have any fires at all,” Mr Porter said.

“This is probably the busiest that I’ve [seen] for a fair while.

Mr Porter believes increased crop yields are a contributing factor.

“Because we’re having such a good season…there’s a lot more bulk going through the machine, so the headers got to work that little bit harder,” he said.

“[There’s] also a lot more dust… the more dust you get floating around and a bit of static electricity off the machines, if you’ve got a bearing going a bit hot and you’ve got straw and dust sitting on it… that all can cause a fire to start.”

Man stands in high visibility clothing leaning on a utility vehicle with a water tank on the back

Chief Bushfire Control Officer for the Shire of Narrogin Pip Porter has attended several header fires this week. (Supplied: Pip Porter)

All the fires were brought under control shortly after they begun, but the damage caused was still significant.

On Saturday, one farmer north of Narrogin lost 20 hectares in under an hour.

Mr Porter said while the damage was contained to the properties this time, there is always risk of further spread.

“It was probably only about 50 metres off the main road, it could have jumped into the neighbour’s wheat crop and would have taken off.”

Mr Porter said while equipment fires are often the result of bad luck, additional maintenance and preparation could be the difference between a small fire and a disaster.

“Get out and walk around the header, check the bearings, check the belts, and just make certain everything is okay and there’s no hot spots.”

“And make sure your fire units are full of water and fuel and set to go.”

Posted , updated 

Bumper crops at risk of going up in smoke with a spike in farm fires in WA’s south-west
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