2009-03-19 -Pitch Dust Fire Hazard from Mulching Beetle- Killed Pine Stands

Safety Alert Type: 
Heavy Equipment
Moffat Creek road right-of-way, Williams Lake TSA
Date of Incident / Close Call: 
Company Name: 
B.A. Blackwell & Associates Ltd.
Details of Incident / Close Call: 
A new hazard has been identified relating to the potential for engine fires on machines running mulchers in mountain pine beetle-killed stands. The accumulation of fine pitch dust on engine parts has been identified as the causal factor.
The owner/operator of a large machine running a mulcher was alerted by smoke from the engine. The machine was shut down and a single 10lb fire extinguisher was applied to suppress the fire. The trigger on the extinguisher got stuck in the on position and all the fire retardant was expelled. This was insufficient and the fire persisted. Luckily, another machine operator was close by with two 5lb extinguishers and with the application of this fire retardant, the fire was extinguished The fire melted some of the plastic hydraulic hoses resulting in a spill of a large quantity of oil (approx. 150 litres) that was appropriately contained and mopped up.
The fine pitch dust produced in this type of operation coats all parts of the machine, including the manifold and turbo. In this incident, the prevailing wind direction exacerbated the build-up of pitch dust and enough pitch had built up that the manifold heated to the point of ignition and an engine fire ensued. The owner/operator and crew did not suffer any injuries. 


Learnings and Suggestions: 


 Mulcher Operators in Beetle-Killed Stands:

  • Cover the air intake of mulching machines with a finer metal mesh.
  • Wash engine with solvent regularly or between shifts (especially when double shifting themachine) to eliminate pitch build-up.
  • Situate machine upwind from the area being mulched.
  • Always carry two 5 lb fire extinguishers on the machine for redundancy in your   firesuppression capabilities.


For more information on this submitted alert: 

B.A. Blackwell & Associates Ltd.

Kyle Broome (604)-986-8346 ext.33

File attachments
2009-03-19 -Pitch Dust Fire Hazard from Mulching Beetle- Killed Pine Stands.pdf
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