Farming

Bushfires and grass fires are a serious threat to a farmer's livelihood.  Years of hard work can be wiped out in a moment.

While it is impossible to eliminate the risk of fire, farmers can introduce measures to reduce the threat.

A bushfire action plan should be an integral part of your overall business management, and include regular fuel reduction and an adherence to good farm practices.

Further information on farm protection can be found on other fact sheets available from your local council or regional CFS office.

Burning Off

Burning-off is still the farming practice that produces the greatest risk every summer. Unless the procedure is planned carefully and carried out with extreme caution, at the right time and under the right conditions there is a real danger that the burn-off will get out of control.

During the Fire Danger Season:

Under no circumstances can burning-off be done during the fire danger season without a permit obtained from the Local Council authorised officer.

At all times stick strictly to the conditions set out in your permit.

When carrying out this operation do not try to burn more than can be controlled at any time with the personnel and equipment available.

You can not burn-off on a Total Fire Ban day

Outside the Fire Danger Season:

  • Be aware of the Local Council´s Code of Practice for burning-off outside of the Fire Danger Season and follow these guidelines.
  • Some Council´s have environmental restrictions for burning off. Before commencing a burn-off find out if any restrictions apply in your local area.

Safe Practices:

When planning a burn-off adopt the following safety procedures: 

  1. Obtain a permit from the Local Council permit officer if you are planning to burn during the Fire Danger Season.
  2. Prepare clean fuel break at least 4 metres wide around the area to be burnt.
  3. Obtain a weather forecast before a burn-off, especially for local winds. Do not start too early in the day before weather conditions are settled.
  4. Give at least 24 hours notice to neighbours of your intention to burn.
  5. Ensure a sufficient water supply for firefighting is available at all times during and after the burn-off. Provide ample water through tanks and portable pumps set up on trucks or utes for farm firefighting and also for refilling of knapsacks.
  6. Ensure a sufficient number of people are present at the site from the time the fire is lit to the time it is completely extinguished.
  7. Do not attempt to burn any more area than can be controlled with the people and equipment available.
  8. Use a strip burning method to control the direction and rate of burning to match the wind strength.
  9. Where possible burn down hill. Burning up a steep incline even against the wind is always dangerous. Light the fire first on the leeward side of the land to establish a protective break. Burning into the wind will give a slower, safer and cleaner burn. Then light from the windward side of the land. Beware of sudden changes in wind direction and speed. If it changes considerably cease lighting and make every effort to make the perimeter safe.  Always make sure the fire edge is blacked out progressively for at least 20 metres into the burnt area.
  10. Have immediate access to a UHF CB or mobile phone through out the fire operation to call for assistance if needed.
  11. Have a well-maintained firefighting unit at all times in the area where the burning-off is taking place.
  12. Constantly patrol the burn-off area for a number of days after, to prevent rekindling as stumps and tree roots can continue to burn underground for many days.

Burning Rubbish/Use of Incinerators:

Check with your local council regarding regulations and restrictions for burning on domestic premises. The Environment Protection (Burning) Policy 1994 restricts the burning of rubbish and the use of incinerators. Burning of green fuel generates lots of smoke and should be avoided. Alternative methods of fuel disposal such as mulching or dumping should be considered.

Some councils have totally prohibited the use of open fires and incinerators for waste disposal on domestic premises.

A permit is required to burn rubbish or garden refuse on the ground during the fire danger season. The area must be cleared for 4 metres and a person in attendance at all times with enough water available to readily extinguish the fire.

For more information: EPA Guidelines for Burning

Joint Guidelines for Farm Fire Units

It is custom and practice in South Australia that members of the community attend fires with their own equipment to protect their property and that of others.  The SA Country Fire Service (CFS) recognizes that, in many parts of South Australia, farm firm units are an essential part of the community's response to fire.  A key principle of this community response is that it be done with safety as number one priority.

The Guidelines for Operating Farm Fire Units were developed in conjunction with the South Australian Farmers Federation to help farmers with private fire fighting equipment understand their responsibilities, and those of the CFS, when fighting fires on or near their land.  The Guidelines were developed to provide basic principles to help farmers fight fires safely and effectively whether the CFS is present or not.

The Guidelines provide a basis for establishing and maintaining a consistent approach in the use of Farm Fire Units at fires across South Australia.  They provide operators with information to improve their knowledge in fire behaviour, fire hazards and suppression activities, as well as providing guidance on fire equipment, communications and protective clothing.

For further information about the Joint Guidelines for Operation Fire Farm Units click on the link below or contact your nearest CFS Regional Headquarters.

Grain Harvesting Code of Practice

Haystack Fires

What causes haystack fires?

Haystack fires have a range of causes, such as sparks from machinery and equipment, embers from nearby burn-offs, or bushfires and lightning strikes. Hay can also self-ignite when excessive heat builds up. This is called spontaneous combustion, or spontaneous ignition, and is a common cause of haystack fires.

Haystack fires can happen in any type of bale stored in a haystack. Even hay stored as single bales can spontaneously ignite under some conditions. Haystack fires can spread quickly into the surrounding area and often result in thousands of dollars of damage.

Why does hay heat?

If hay is too "green" (the internal plant moisture content is too high) or if gets damp before, during or after baling, a complex series of biological and chemical processes may cause the hay to heat.

This is because the plant material is still alive and using energy (respiration) and microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi, are able to grow in the moist environment. These processes generate heat, which may result in the loss of dry matter, nutritive value, and reduced palatability and, if left unchecked, could result in ignition.

Once temperatures reach about 70°C, they may increase extremely rapidly to the point of spontaneous ignition (approximately 170°C). Spontaneous ignition may occur within two weeks of baling and may continue to pose a threat for well over three months.

Signs of heating hay

Regularly monitor all haystacks for signs that the hay is heating by using a temperature probe or a crow-bar. Other signs of heating include:

  • Steam rising from haystacks.
  • Condensation or corrosion under hay shed roofing.
  • Mould growth in or on bales.
  • Unusual odours (burning, musty, pipe tobacco or caramel).
  • Slumping in sections of the haystack

Minimising the risk of haystack fire

Make sure hay is fully cured (dead and dry) and at the recommended moisture content before baling. The recommended moisture content will vary depending on the type of crop and bale being used. Use a correctly calibrated moisture meter to check hay moisture levels throughout the baling process. Be sure to test plant nodes and heads inside leaf sheaths for hidden moisture, particularly if baling drought affected cereal hay.

It is important to remember that just one damp bale is enough to ignite a haystack, so make sure you protect all bales from rain, leaking roofs and gutters, and runoff. If some bales become damp, they should be stored separately and closely monitored.

Make sure haystacks are limited in size and have enough airflow to allow heat and moisture to escape.

If you get hay from another area, make sure you know the history and moisture content of the hay before you store it.

Store hay away from possible sources of ignition (such as roadsides, workshops, and fuel and chemical storage areas) and away from vegetation that may produce embers if a fire does occur.

Be careful when using vehicles, machinery and equipment near haystacks, especially during days of high fire danger.

Store hay well away from powerlines because they can be a source of ignition. If hay does ignite under or near powerlines, it could be very dangerous and may disrupt the local power supply.

Protecting your assets

Store hay in a number of different locations around your farm and limit the size of the stacks. This will reduce the risk of losing all of your hay if a fire does occur.

Hay should be stored away from houses and other assets.

Do not store vehicles, machinery and equipment with your hay.

Create and maintain fuel breaks around haystacks. The wider the break, the more useful it will be at helping to stop a haystack fire from escaping into the surrounding area or to stop a fire from reaching your stored hay.

What to do if hay is heating

If there are signs that the hay is starting to heat, pull the stack apart to improve airflow and allow the bales to cool.

Be aware that very hot hay may suddenly catch alight if it is pulled apart, so if any part of the stack is near or above 70°C or you see or smell smoke, you should call 000 immediately and ask for assistance from the SA Country Fire Service CFS (CFS).

Don't walk across hay that may be heating. Charred bales inside the stack may suddenly collapse and result in entrapment, and the rush of air may result in a sudden flare-up.

Key things to remember:

  • Ensure hay is fully cured before baling.
  • Bale and store each bale type at the correct moisture level.
  • Know the history of hay that you purchase, particularly its moisture content.
  • Protect hay from rain, leaking roofs and gutters, and runoff.
  • Store hay in a number of different locations, away from assets, and limit the size of stacks.
  • Don't store vehicles, machinery and equipment in your hay shed.
  • Be careful when operating vehicles, machinery and equipment near your haystacks.
  • Create and maintain fuel breaks around your haystacks.
  • Regularly monitor stored hay for signs of heating.
  • It only takes one heating hay bale to ignite a whole haystack.
  • Have your local CFS Brigade in attendance if you have to pull a hot haystack apart.

LP Gas

LP Gas (or Liquified Petroleum Gas) is derived from two principal sources: it is extracted with crude oils/gases from the earth, or it is produced during the refining processes.

The two most common LP Gases are Propane and Butane. LP Gas is widely used as a domestic fuel because it is convenient, relatively inexpensive and safe. As with any fuel, however, certain simple safety precautions must be observed in its use.

Characteristics of LP Gas:

LP Gas is usually stored as a liquid under pressure. When released into the atmosphere at any temperature above its boiling Point (-42ºC for propane and 0ºC for butane) it will change from liquid to vapour. Liquid LPG on bare skin causes frostbite.

LP Gas is heavier than air. In both its liquid and vapour states, it is colourless and odourless. It is considered to be non-toxic, but may have some anaesthetic effect if inhaled in high concentrations.

LP Gas is FLAMMABLE:

Safety Tips

  • Always follow manufacturer's directions when using LP Gas appliances.
  • Ensure connections are tight before operating equipment. If there is a leak, turn off and do not operate until the leak is fixed.
  • If a leak has occurred, LP Gas will settle in low spots such as cellars or drains as it is heavier than air. Ventilate these areas well.
  • Do not overfill cylinders as LP Gas expands as the temperature rises and the container could become over-pressurised.
  • Keep cylinders upright, even when empty to ensure the pressure relief valve can operate effectively.
  • Ensure the relief valve is pointed away from the structure supporting the cylinder, in case the relief valve operates and the discharge ignites.
  • Protect cylinders from direct sun. If, on extremely hot days, the relief valve operates, cool the cylinder with water.
  • When using a gas barbecue or other LP Gas equipment outdoors, be sure the area is cleared of any ground fuel.
  • Where possible secure portable cylinders.

If a leak or a fire occurs when using LP Gas equipment, call your local fire brigade.

Danger to Crops from Engine/Vehicle Exhausts:

Vehicle and engines exhausts cause about 25 fires each year in rural South Australia.

The 2 main causes are from sparks emitted by the exhaust system and from hot exhaust parts or radiated heat igniting flammable material.

Sparks tend to be caused by engine backfiring or from hot material, such as carbon being expelled from the exhaust.

Ignition of flammable vegetation can occur when it is caught in a vehicle´s hot metal exhaust pipe, muffler or catalytic converter and shield when driving through dry grass or crop paddocks. Under normal running conditions any motor vehicle exhaust can become hot enough to start a fire in dry grass. The amount of heat radiated from a hot exhaust may also be sufficient to ignite flammable vegetation if it is located too close.

Where possible avoid driving a vehicle across paddocks of long dry grass or crop stubble and parking in vegetation on roadsides and paddocks.

Safe Practices:

The SA Country Fire Service (CFS) asks landowners to follow these safety steps during the Fire Danger Season:

  • Regularly check the exhaust system and remove any build up of flammable material caught in the vehicle´s exhaust pipe, muffler or catalytic converter
  • Restrict off road driving to tracks where grass is low and park only in cleared areas
  • Always carry a knapsack spray or fire extinguisher on the vehicle
  • Maintain a farm firefighting unit with its own pump, motor hoses and water tank ready to use when harvesting, burning-off, welding or conducting other farm operations
  • Do not carry drums of fuel on tractors. Vibration may cause leaks.
  • Never refuel any machine while the engine is running and always keep a suitable fire extinguisher on hand.

Mowers and Slashers

Rotary mowers or slashers used in stubble retention practices can start bushfires through a combination of sparks from the blades striking stones and contact with the vegetation being cut.

The CFS advises that mowers, especially rotary types should not be used in dry grass, stubble or crops on days when there is the chance of fires starting and spreading. Contact your local council Fire Prevention Officer to obtain a copy of the local Code of Practice for Mowing and Slashing in your council area.  Should a fire start and escape during slashing the operator may be liable to a fine of up to $5,000 and face possible litigation from any affected neighbour.

In compliance with the SA Fire and Emergency Services Act, when using a mower or slasher, chain saw, brush cutter or edger during the fire danger season you must either:

  • Clear a 4 metre area of all flammable material right around the area to be cut, or
  • Have a knapsack or extinguisher and a rake or shovel on hand.

Any tractor powered by an internal combustion engine must also have an exhaust system where

  • All engine exhaust emitted by the engine or vehicle exits through the system; and
  • The system is designed to prevent the escape of burning material from the system; and
  • The system is designed to prevent heated parts of the system from coming into contact with flammable material; and
  • The system is in good working order.

Engine exhaust emitted by a turbo charged engine, as a waste gate will be taken to exit through the exhaust system of the engine or vehicle.

Grinders and Welders

Sparks from angle grinders, welders, oxy cutting tools, and other gas fired appliances used during the fire danger season can also cause bushfires.

All operators need to observe the rules for using these appliances outdoors during the fire danger season and comply with the SA Fire and Emergency Services Act.

  • This equipment can only be used outdoors when there is no Total Fire Ban in force and even then a 4 metre space must be cleared and the operator must have a knapsack or water extinguisher on hand.
  • Dampen down the area with water prior to commencing work as an additional precaution.
  • On Total Fire Ban days a permit is required from the local council.
  • Illegal use can result in fines of up to $5,000 for a first offence.

Maintenance of Machinery

Farmers need to take precautions to ensure that every item of equipment on their farm, which generates heat in one form or another, is in good working order and is not likely to ignite crops or other flammable substances during farming operations.

Check:

  • All farm machinery and vehicle engines are free from any mechanical defects that could cause a fire.
  • An efficient knapsack spray and rake or shovel is carried ready for use. A nine litre water extinguisher can be carried as an alternative.
  • Stationary engines, including generators are operated within a four metre clearance of all flammable material.
  • Any internal combustion engine must also have an exhaust system where
    • All engine exhaust emitted by the engine or vehicle exits through the system; and
    • The system is designed to prevent the escape of burning material from the system; and
    • The system is designed to prevent heated parts of the system from coming into contact with flammable material; and
    • The system is in good working order.
    • Engine exhaust emitted by a turbocharged engine, as a waste gate will be taken to exit through the exhaust system of the engine or vehicle
  • When using a stationary engine, if no one is present while it is operating, the area around it must be cleared of all flammable material for a distance of 4 metres. If an operator is present when the engine is in use, they must have a knapsack (or water extinguisher) and a rake or shovel available.

Save Crops through Equipment Maintenance

All farm machinery needs to be regularly maintained and serviced during the summer months to protect crops and machinery.

  • Keep the spark arrester clean and in good order.
  • Check the exhaust system for emission of sparks.
  • Remove dry grass/stubble/chaff/straw caught in machinery particularly near the exhaust system before operating.
  • Replace twisted wire on exhaust systems with clamps to prevent flammable material getting caught and causing a fire.
  • Keep machinery clean of oil and grease and lubricate regularly to prevent overheating of bearings and other parts.
  • Keep battery terminals and all electrical wiring clean and tight.
  • Regularly check that the knapsack spray pump is in proper working order.
  • Inspect fuel lines and tank daily for leaks.
  • Check wheel brake adjustments to prevent drag and friction heating.