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‘You cannot do anything about it’, says Norfolk farmer who lost £12,000 of barley in field fire near NDR

PUBLISHED: 17:41 23 July 2018 | UPDATED: 09:01 24 July 2018

Horsford farmer Michael Keeler who lost a field of crops to fire.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Horsford farmer Michael Keeler who lost a field of crops to fire. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2018

A Horsford farmer who lost crops worth up to £12,000 when his combine harvester sparked a field fire said he was powerless to prevent the blaze in Norfolk’s tinder-dry conditions.

Michael Keeler, of Sharps Hall Farm, said more than 23 acres of barley were destroyed after the rotating header of his combine struck a flint in the ground while the machine was turning a corner – sparking the crops into flames.

Six Norfolk fire crews were called to the field opposite Norwich International Airport, close to the A140 roundabout on the Broadland Northway, on Thursday afternoon.

Mr Keeler said the blaze broke out despite taking precautions including equipping his harvesters and grain carts with extinguishers, and following fire service advice to raise the header of his machinery to prevent flint sparks.

“You cannot do anything about it,” he said. “My son-in-law was driving the tractor and trailer behind me. He saw the smoke from the other side of the field and he took the fire extinguisher off the combine and drove across the crop to get there, but he couldn’t do anything.

Horsford farmer Michael Keeler who lost a field of crops to fire.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYHorsford farmer Michael Keeler who lost a field of crops to fire. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

“It just got out of hand so quickly, and he had to get off the field or he would have gone up with the tractor and trailer and everything. You have got to save yourself. That is the frightening thing about it. It moves so quick, it was unbelievable.

“We couldn’t do any more. We have got extinguishers on the grain cart and the combine. I was leaving the stubble high and lifting the header further off the ground, but when you have got a 17ft header, if the combine wheel drops 3” into a tramline, it magnifies out.

“The whole field is gone and we are harvesting three tonnes per acre, so we are talking about 70-odd tonnes of feed barley at about £140 per tonne, plus the value of the straw. I should think the insurance claim will be £10-£12,000.

“It is insured, but that is not the point. You look after the crop and nurture it all year, and you have done a good job with it, and then all of a sudden within 15-20 minutes you’ve lost the lot. It is all gone up in smoke.”

Horsford farmer Michael Keeler who lost a field of crops to fire.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYHorsford farmer Michael Keeler who lost a field of crops to fire. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

As well as the destroyed grain, Mr Keeler says he only has 17 bales of straw from the blackened field which should have given him 180 bales – creating a shortfall of feed and bedding for his 200 head of cattle.

“You have got to look at the wider picture,” he said. “People are losing not only the crops, but the straw they are going to need in the winter.”

Mr Keeler praised the efforts of the fire crews, who arrived within 15 minutes. He said: “They are pushed to the limit and it is a credit to the fire crews that they are keeping on top of all these fires.”

Horsford farmer Michael Keeler who lost a field of crops to fire.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYHorsford farmer Michael Keeler who lost a field of crops to fire. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Fire off the Broadland Northway at the A140 junction. Photo: Lewis DenmarkFire off the Broadland Northway at the A140 junction. Photo: Lewis Denmark


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