A tractor or dozer can be a very useful tool to prepare for the fire season. This story shows you a number of ways to put your machine to the task. The information is general in nature. As guidelines and regulations vary from location to location it is imperative to refer to your local authorities before commencing any work.
Also be aware that there are limitations on using certain kinds of machinery, particularly during the fire season. For example some equipment can’t be used on fire risk days or it may be necessary to have on hand a means of extinguishing a fire created by the machinery. It is good practice and mandatory by law in some states to have a spark arrestor style exhaust system on your tractor.
Firebreaks are created by removing a strip of flammable vegetation to prevent small ground fires continuing to spread. Firebreaks may also allow fire fighting equipment to access your property. Firebreaks are generally cut around the perimeter of an area you want to protect – often around fence lines. The break needs to be cut wide enough to prevent the fire jumping. It should be noted that a fire break will not help with flying embers carried in the air that can create spot fires some distance from the fire source. Similarly, a firebreak is more effective in an open area as fires can spread from one tree to the next through the tree tops.
There are a number of ways to create a firebreak. The most basic is to cut a strip of grass or other light vegetation. Obviously the shorter the vegetation is cut, the more effective the break will be. This can be done with a slasher or mulching mower. A mulching mower is capable of cutting up sticks and light vegetation as well as grass. A great way to cut down tougher vegetation is to use a dozer that is capable of having a mulching mower fitted to the rear. This enables the machine to knock down shrub out the front with a blade and then break it up out the back.
A more comprehensive method is to strip the ground to bare earth to remove all flammable material. Again a blade on the front of a dozer is a great way to do this. A 4in1 bucket fitted to a tractor will also do the job. This method provides greater protection but is more likely to cause erosion or weed problems down the track. Herbicide can also be used to kill off vegetation before it grows too much. A spraying unit attached to your tractor can be an efficient method to cover large areas. This method can also cause problems with weeds and erosion.
Slashing Larger Areas
Large areas of standing grass can cause very fast and intense fires – the longer and drier the grass, the greater the hazard. Keeping grass down around your home and sheds can be an important part of protecting your property. A wheeled tractor and slasher will get through flat and slightly hilly country more quickly. A dozer with slasher will be much slower but tackle very tough terrain. Either way, when operating machinery in long grass it is important to be careful about running into hidden obstacles such as stumps or holes. Also be particularly careful of starting a grass fire with your tractor / dozer. Heat and or sparks created by machinery have started many grass fires.
Clearing Under Trees
Clearing light scrub and fallen branches from under trees also helps. It can prevent a fire generating sufficient intensity to ignite larger trees. Slashing and dozing as described above are used here too. If the scrub is just knocked over and not broken up with a mulching mower it is best push it out into an open area away from the trees. Burning off is an efficient method of disposal if it is safe and allowable. Alternately if you have a small amount of branches etc this can be reduced down with a wood chipper.
Completely or partially clearing an area of trees will provide further fire protection. Pushing trees over directly with a wheeled tractor is a dangerous practice due to the risk of rolling over. Small trees can be pushed over with a dozer style tractor but extreme caution must be exercised to avoid the tree falling back towards the machine and operator. Ensure your machine has a certified Falling Objects Protective Structure (FOPS).
Pulling over relatively small or rotten trees can be tackled with a chain and tractor. The advantage over a chainsaw is you can keep your distance when doing it. Plus if you are lucky, the stump might come out too. Safety is paramount. Use common sense and good judgement and keep the following in mind.
Pulling down a tree means getting close to it to attach the chain. Be careful that the tree isn’t so rotten that it could fall over simply through hitching a chain. Also watch out for falling limbs. You need plenty of suitably rated chain. DO NOT USE rope or cable. If it snaps the backlash could be dangerous. The chain MUST be comfortably longer than the height of the tree so that when you pull it towards you it doesn’t fall on you. ALWAYS use the drawbar to connect the chain to the tractor. By having the pulling force applied below the axle, the risk of flipping the tractor over backwards is reduced. ALWAYS use a roll over protective structure. If your tractor has 4WD engage it to maximise pulling power.
A tractor fitted with a 4 in 1 front end loader can be useful for grabbing and lifting small trees to clear them away. Cutting them up into firewood for next winter can be a bonus. Your tractor can also be used to take the back breaking work out of splitting firewood. The splitter pictured is driven by the tractors hydraulics and can apply eighteen tonnes of force. And a tractor front end loader sure beats a wheel barrow for carting wood.
It is so important to consult your local government and fire authority to implement a plan most suitable for your area / property. There are also many fire prevention methods not involving a tractor such as keeping gutters cleared, removing flammable material away from the house or installing sprinkler systems. Whatever fire prevention methods you use implement them as soon as possible to have a safe fires season.