Salvaging Grain, Coordinating With Fire Department in a Stored Grain Fire Response - Part 2

This article is second in a two-part series from “Stored Grain: Fire Initial Response Plan,” a white paper written by Nationwide.

What does a salvage company do to manage a grain fire?

A salvage company safely helps the insured to retain (salvage) as much good grain from the grain storage structure as possible.

The following are different methods salvage companies use to retain good grain. Because salvage company professionals have been trained in these activities, it is important that operators not attempt any of these actions without direction from a salvage company:

  • If the unloading auger is still working, unburned grain can be unloaded from the grain storage structure to the outside.
  • If the unloading auger is not working, cuts can be made in the sides of the grain storage structure to remove good grain.
  • Cut holes on opposite sides at about the same level and the same size (8 inches to 12 inches square) to accommodate unloading.
  • Watch for the level of the grain to be below the entry door.
  • When it is, an air-vac can be used to remove the unburned grain.
  • Carefully consider running the fan to ventilate the grain storage structure and eliminate smoke. Remember, forced airflow can feed the fire and make extinguishing more difficult. Fans should be shut down when operators are closest to the burning level with hose streams which can be used to extinguish the remaining burning grain. Never enter a burning grain storage structure unless it can be done safely.
  • Self-contained breathing apparatus gear should be considered before entering a grain storage structure to air-vac or use some other mechanical means. Do not enter if there is danger that an operator may fall into a pocket of burning grain.
  • Never enter a grain storage structure when the unloader, sweep-auger, or stirators are running.
  • Before operators enter, all lockout/tagout procedures must be followed.
  • Do not air-vac blackened or burning grain.
  • Closer to the fire, the grain may be heated and be caramel colored.
  • Black, smoldering grain will produce a flame when exposed to air. Extinguish burning grain as it is exposed.
  • If possible, probe the burning grain with a piece of hollow steel pipe with a sharpened point and holes in it, then pump water through the pipe.
  • Burning grain is hard to put out, and rekindles are common. When possible, blackened grain should be removed from the grain storage structure and spread on the ground or a concrete pad at least 50 feet away from buildings or other combustibles.

Always keep close assessment on collateral issues – other grain storage structures, equipment, and people.

... according to incident response protocols, when the fire department arrives at the site, they are in charge of the incident response.

Working with the local fire department

According to incident response protocols, when the fire department arrives at the site, they are in charge of the incident response.

All firefighters have been trained to put water on fires. If you prefer a different response, the fire department needs to know why that is appropriate.

  • Location operators should have discussions about how to handle grain fires during the annual fire department tour of the facility, not after a grain fire has started.
  • Make the fire department aware that trying to put out a grain fire in a grain storage structure or pile with a water spray will not put out the fire and will damage the grain that is not burning. In some cases, no amount of water can be used to put out the grain fire. Other methods (at the direction of a salvage company) are the only way to stop the fire.
  • Make sure the fire department is aware that grain dust is explosive. If a water spray is used, there is potential for a grain dust explosion, because grain dust may be put into suspension.
  • Inform the fire department that they are needed on site in case the fire spreads out of the grain to adjacent structures. At that time, conventional methods could be used to fight the fire that is outside of the grain storage structure.
  • The preferred method of fighting grain fires is to limit oxygen to the fire and control the site, if it can be done safely, until the salvage contractor arrives.
  • When the salvage contractor arrives at the site, the fire department should jointly develop an action plan for addressing the fire and the roles and responsibilities of each team.

Know your options. There are many variables to consider when handling a grain fire.

Each grain fire is different. Sometimes, putting large amounts of water on a grain fire is not the best approach. It is best to understand all options.

Consult professional advice and direction for your particular circumstances and concerns.

Email questions to

- From the September/October 2020 Grain Journal

Related Articles:

Understand and Manage Stored Grain Fire Response - Part 1

High-Visibility Clothing: A Necessary Safety Item That Also Sends a Message to Customers

Safe Grain Unloading: Plugs, Clumping, and Hangups Are Major Causes of Engulfment