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Farmers urged to be vigilant about harvest fires after string of blazes across region

Headshot of Sean Van Der Wielen
Sean Van Der WielenGreat Southern Herald
A recent header fire in the Southern Wheatbelt.
Camera IconA recent header fire in the Southern Wheatbelt. Credit: Supplied

Farmers in the Great Southern and southern Wheatbelt have been asked to take extra care during WA’s record-breaking harvest after a spate of header fires.

Several fires have broken out in recent weeks in the shires of Katanning, Narrogin and Cuballing, where grain growers are in the middle of harvesting their part of a 20-million-tonne crop.

Cuballing chief fire control officer Anthony Mort said though header fires occurred every harvest and could be started by something as simple as hitting a rock, there was an increased risk this season.

“The fuel load is quite high this year and the farmers are probably trying to get crop off as quick as they can to wrap it up before Christmas,” he said.

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“If they don’t clean their machines out regularly, you could end up with a fire.”

Mr Mort said recent weather conditions had not helped the situation.

Smoke billowing from a header fire in Cuballing.
Camera IconSmoke billowing from a header fire in Cuballing. Credit: Supplied

“The farmer nearly gets the fire under control, but then runs out of water and while people come to help, unfortunately with all these winds we’ve had, that creates a new fireground,” he said.

In a recent header fire at Roger Newman’s property in the Shire of Cuballing, the blaze moved uphill and destroyed about 60ha of oats before moving on to a neighbouring property with native vegetation.

It was a case of bad luck for Mr Newman, with the fire being caused by an internal metal component falling into the seed destructor — something he said could not be picked up in his daily maintenance checks.

He said the fire could have been a lot worse without his firefighting unit nearby and the quick response from neighbours.

“The immediate response from all the neighbouring units and local fire brigades helped to make sure it didn’t reignite,” he said.

Although some header fires were unavoidable, Mr Mort said there were ways farmers could reduce their risks.

“Don’t leave that vehicle with the firefighting unit in the corner of the paddock. Move it periodically out towards where you are working to have it on hand without travelling back to that vehicle,” he said.

“Another farmer rang me up the other day and suggested the possibility of putting a firefighting unit on a chaser bin because a chaser bin is always following the header.”

Ultimately, Mr Mort said patience and putting safety at first were the priorities.

“Just step back and take a breather, especially when things are not going right or things are maybe behind time because of the weather we’ve had,” he said.

“Ensure the gear is in good working order to make sure everyone’s safe, because that’s what it’s all about.”

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