There are lots of things that can go wrong with a lawn mower, but without a doubt, a lawn mower on fire is one of the most terrifying issues you could have to deal with. It’s not super common, but happens more often than you might think. We’re going to take a look at what to do if it does happen to you and what steps you can take to minimize the risk of it ever happening to your mower.
The most common causes of a lawn mower on fire include refueling while the mower is hot, clippings and dry debris getting into the muffler, cooling fins and internal engine, and an overworked engine caused by a lack of maintenance.
My Lawn Mower is On Fire: What Should I Do?
I sincerely hope that you never find yourself in this position. But if you do, it’s important that you’re aware of what to do. In general, it’s not advisable to try and put the fire out yourself, unless you’re a trained firefighter. But if not, don’t try and be a hero.
Your best bet is to shut the lawn mower off right away and then try and move it away from any buildings if at all possible. Then call the fire brigade and let the professionals deal with it. Fire is no joke.
How to Prevent Your Lawn Mower from Catching Fire
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Isn’t that what they say?! It’s definitely true when it comes to lawn mowers catching fire. The consequences of this scenario can be potentially devastating. So I strongly advise you to do everything within your control to minimize the chances of one ever happening.
Here are a number of things you can do:
Clean Dry Grass and Debris from Mower
During the summer months, when the sun is at its hottest, the risk of a lawn mower catching fire is significantly higher. One potential hazard you might be overlooking is the dry grass clippings coating your cutting deck and other parts of your mower.
If a mower deck is not rinsed at the end of every mowing session (highly recommend this by the way) and the rest of the mower given a brush down, this debris could become the kindling for a lawn mower fire.
Next time you use your mower, if any of this dry debris makes its way into the muffler, it could spell trouble. The muffler is responsible for helping to make your lawn mower quieter and also to prevent exhaust sparks. But they’re often not very well maintained, with folks only paying attention to them when something goes wrong.
Needless to say, dry debris plus a clogged lawn mower muffler or one that is not functioning properly, can lead to a fire. Exhaust sparks could ignite the clippings/debris. And from there, things can quickly go from bad to worse.
Avoid Refuelling Mid-Mow
We’ve all been there. You have a ton of things on your mind and it didn’t even enter your head for a second to check the fuel level before you started mowing. And then you run out mid-mow. So you go get your gas can, planning to refuel there and then. BIG MISTAKE!
Do you realize just how flammable gas is? And if you refuel mid-mow, the engine, muffler and various other components on your mower are going to be red hot. One little spillage and your mower could go up in flames very easily.
If you find yourself in this position, you’re going to need to leave your mower to cool down before you add more gas. So wheel it into a safe place and take a break. And not just for a couple of minutes. Leave it for half an hour, as it’ll take time for the temperature to drop. Gas has a very low flashpoint, so you don’t want to take any risks.
Another tip is to always refuel on a hard surface – not your lawn! As if you spill fuel on your lawn, that’s going to be a potential fire hazard when you start mowing again.
Blade + Rock (Can) = Fire
This goes back to the time of the caveman, who were thought to have used two pieces of flint to create sparks. A metal mower blade spinning at crazy speeds, coming into contact with a rock can have much the same effect. Sparks can fly!
If there are dry clippings built up on the underside of the mower, this can be enough to set your lawn mower on fire. I’ll repeat the first tip here to emphasize it – you need to keep your mower deck free from all sorts of dry debris. Secondly, have a walk around your yard before you start mowing, paying particular attention to whether there are any stones or rocks on the lawn.
Lastly, you always want to make sure your blade is well maintained. If your crankshaft is bent (here’s how to tell if your lawn mower crankshaft is bent) or the mower blade itself is bent, it’s very likely the blade will be moving irregularly and could either scalp your lawn or hit rocks or other hard objects that it would normally clear.
Your job is to do everything possible so that the worlds of the blade and the rock do not collide!
Try Mowing Earlier in the Day
Not only is waiting to mow in the middle of the day in summer a bad idea for your own health (that midday sun is absolutely brutal), but it’s also the part of the day that’s most likely to lead to a lawn mower fire. Conditions are extremely hot and dry.
So one way to lower the risk of seeing your lawn mower on fire is to get out and mow early in the morning. I know this might not be too popular among those that love to sleep-in, but at this time of day, the temperature is much lower and there’s often a little bit of moisture on the lawn too. Both of which make a fire far less likely. So set the alarm and have some coffee waiting for you in the morning!
Avoid Mowing in the Windy Weather
The last tip was easy to understand. Hotter, drier weather = more chance of a lawn mower fire. But wind…what has that got to do with it?
The problem with mowing in extremely dry, windy conditions is that dry debris (clippings and other trimmings) will be blowing all over the place. And it’ll likely be blown inside your mower. And that’s a situation best avoided.
So stick to mowing on still days in the summer if you can help it.
Don’t Let Your Grass Get Too Tall
Let’s face it, letting grass grow too tall is just a bad idea all around. It looks bad, it makes your job tricky when you do get around to mowing, and it can actually increase the chances of you having to deal with a lawn mower on fire.
That’s right. The taller your grass, the more clippings are going to be flying all over the place. (Bad) Luck is often a numbers game, and the more clippings there are flying all over the place, the more chance that some of them will come into contact with super hot parts of your mower (muffler, internal engine, etc) when it is running, and cause a fire.
The solution is simple. Don’t let your grass grow super tall. Keep it under control and you minimize the risk of fire.
Check Your Air Filter + Oil Level Regularly
Routine maintenance plays a super important part in avoiding the experience of having a lawn mower on fire. When you skip this maintenance, what typically happens is that your mower’s engine has to work harder and harder to compensate and continue to deliver the results you expect (i.e. perfectly cut grass). And when it works harder, it runs hotter and hotter. You mix that with dry clippings and you’ll be lucky if your lawn mower doesn’t catch on fire!
Two things to take note of in particular are the air filter and the oil level. Air filters get clogged up with dirt and grime over time and need cleaning or replacing. If you don’t do this, less and less air reaches the engine, and that makes life tough.
Oil is needed to lubricate the internal engine components. If there’s not enough oil, eventually the engine will seize up. But before that happens, the added friction that is generated between these components may be enough to cause a fire, and at the very least will increase the engine temperature significantly. So check on the oil level frequently. It doesn’t take long to do and it could prevent a lawn mower fire.
The older your mower, the more frequently I’d recommend you “tune it up” as components are less efficient and can wear more quickly.
Clean Your Cooling Fins Every Year
A lot of people don’t bother including this step in their end-of-season maintenance check. Over the course of a year, clippings can build up under the cover that sits on top of the engine’s cooling fins. I’ve seen videos where they’ve taken this cover off and it looks like something is living in there. Almost like a bird’s nest sitting on top of the cooling fins. This is a fire hazard and needs removing right away.
Make Sure Your Lawn Mower Doesn’t Catch Fire: An Action Plan
Most of the time when a lawn mower fire occurs, it’s due to bad practice or oversights on the part of the operator (i.e. you). Lots of it is just common sense. Here’s a quick list as a reminder:
- Clean dry clippings and debris off your mower after every session.
- Remove rocks and other hard objects from your lawn before you start.
- Check gas level and add fuel if necessary before you start mowing (never mid-mow).
- Cut in the morning during summer.
- Avoid mowing in really windy conditions.
- Mow little and often, never letting your grass grow too tall.
- Regularly maintain your mower, paying special attention to the air filter and oil level.
- Clean the cooling fins every year.
I sincerely hope these tips can help ensure that you never experience a lawn mower on fire!