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Farmers urged to take preventative action after spate of Norfolk wildfires

PUBLISHED: 12:36 20 July 2018 | UPDATED: 12:36 20 July 2018

Field fire at Ostend Walcott. Picture: Maurice Gray

Field fire at Ostend Walcott. Picture: Maurice Gray

Maurice Gray

As the hot weather creates tinderbox conditions across the region, farmers have been urged to take action to prevent fires which could destroy property and reduce hours of work to ashes.

Norfolk fire crews have battled almost 200 wildfires in the last six weeks, compared to just 32 two years ago – including responding to 50 open fire calls around the county last weekend alone.

Since the beginning of June, 34 agricultural fires have been reported to the emergency services, the majority of which were accidental.

The blazes have occurred in both baled and standing crops, as well as equipment and stubble fields.

A spokesman for Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service said: “Tinder dry conditions have increased the risk of fire starting on agricultural land and we have been called out to farmland across Norfolk.

“We would encourage farmers to lift the head on their machinery when they are cropping. While this will leave a slightly higher stubble, it would help to reduce the risk of flints getting into farm machinery and sparking, causing a fire.”

The fire service also advises that hay and straw should be stored separately from other farm buildings, particularly those housing fuels, agrochemicals and machinery, and that hay and straw “should be in stacks of reasonable size, at least 10 metres apart.”

Other advice includes compartmentalising large storage areas with fire retardant partitions and storing straw and agrochemicals in metal containers.

Farm insurer NFU Mutual is also preparing to cover the cost of potential machinery damage.

Rural affairs specialist Tim Price said: “We are really worried that the number of combine fires will exceed the prolonged hot spell five years ago. In 2013 NFU Mutual dealt with 120 claims at a cost of over £2.5m. While insurance can cover the cost of fire, the risk to life and impact on farmers and their businesses is devastating.”

Mr Price said: “May and June’s good weather means that harvesting is already under way, weeks earlier than usual. We are urging farmers to reduce the risk of fire by making sure that fire extinguishers on combine harvesters are serviced before harvest starts, and to make sure regular maintenance and cleaning to remove chaff is carried out.”

NFU FIRE ADVICE

Every year Norfolk farmers are hit with hay and straw bale fires, started either accidentally or as a result of arson.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) advises a number of measures which farmers can take to avoid stack fires. These include:

• Removing hay and straw from fields as soon as possible after harvesting.

• Only bailing up the product when dry.

• Storing separately from other buildings in stacks of reasonable size away from roads and other routes.

• Keeping stacks a safe distance from overhead power cables.

If a fire does break out, farmers and landowners are advised to:

• Call the fire and rescue services without delay.

• Send someone to the farm entrance to direct the emergency services to the blaze.

• Prepare to evacuate any livestock in case the fire spreads.

• Prepare to use any farm machinery to assist the emergency services.

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