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Cost of farm fires soared by 40% in East Anglia’s devastating summer heatwave, says insurer

A harvest team working to contain a field fire at Blofield in July 2018. Picture: Mike Page

A harvest team working to contain a field fire at Blofield in July 2018. Picture: Mike Page

Copypright Mike Page, All Rights Reserved Before any use is made of this picture, including dispaly, publication, broadcast, syn

The cost of farm fires soared by almost 40pc across the East of England this summer as the prolonged heatwave put crops and straw stacks at risk, according to rural insurers.

Horsford farmer Michael Keeler lost £12,000 of barley in a field fire in July. Picture: ANTONY KELLYHorsford farmer Michael Keeler lost £12,000 of barley in a field fire in July. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

New figures released by NFU Mutual highlight the devastation caused by the early harvest and tinder-dry conditions, as destructive blazes sparked claims totalling £3,339,579 for the region between June and September 2018 – up from £2,393,342 for the same period last year.

Nationally, the claims figure rose by 21pc to £31.5m, with July being a particularly tough month for farmers, during which costs leapt dramatically by more than 137pc on the previous year.

Tim Price, NFU Mutual’s rural affairs specialist, said the sharp rise in claims for fire damage were the result of a summer which, according to the Met Office, was the UK’s warmest since 2006, the driest since 2003 and the sunniest since 1995.

“Fire remains one of the greatest hazards on the nation’s farms,” he said. “We normally see claims peaking in August and September, but this year saw a sharp increase in claims during June and July.

Fire fighters put out a straw bale fire in Thrandeston. PHOTO: Norfolk Fire and Rescue ServiceFire fighters put out a straw bale fire in Thrandeston. PHOTO: Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service

“This was due to the exceptionally hot dry summer which brought harvesting forward by almost a month and resulted in tinder dry crops and overheating of combines, balers, and other harvesting machinery.”

The most common cause of farm fires during the 2018 harvest period was electrical and mechanical fires – responsible for almost half of NFU Mutual’s claims.

READ MORE: Norfolk farmer loses £12,000 of barley in field fire near Norwich Airport

Many started in vehicles such as balers, combine harvesters and tractors as the scorching weather provided the perfect environment for overheating.

The second most common cause of fire was spread from elsewhere – such as a barn or homestead, followed in third place by arson.

Mr Price added: “The scale of these claims shows how important it is to take all possible steps to prevent fires breaking out, and to have clear plans to evacuate people and livestock safely in the event of a fire. Also, it’s vital to make sure you have the right sort of fire extinguishers maintained in good order so you can fight small fires safely.”

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