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'Mindless' straw stack blaze could have put lives at risk, says farmer

PUBLISHED: 13:05 25 June 2019 | UPDATED: 13:33 25 June 2019

Fire crews tackled a large straw stack fire at a farm in Felmingham. Picture: Kit Papworth

Fire crews tackled a large straw stack fire at a farm in Felmingham. Picture: Kit Papworth

Kit Papworth

Firefighters warned that lives and property could have been threatened by a large straw stack blaze at a Norfolk farm - its second suspected arson attack in two months.

Fire crews tackled a large straw stack fire at a farm in Felmingham. Picture: Kit PapworthFire crews tackled a large straw stack fire at a farm in Felmingham. Picture: Kit Papworth

Emergency crews tackled around 700 burning straw bales at a farm in Felmingham, near North Walsham, at 3.25am.

Although unable to confirm the cause, officers on the scene said the fire was most likely to have been started deliberately and it was very fortunate that a nearby farmhouse, livestock sheds and horse stables were not affected.

It is the second time in as many months that the farm has suffered a suspected arson attack, after 200 tonnes of straw were set alight two miles away in Burgh-next-Aylsham on April 24.

Farmer Kit Papworth said despite the financial cost and the loss of bedding material for his livestock, he was most concerned about the potential threat to lives and property.

Fire crews tackled a large straw stack fire at a farm in Felmingham. Picture: Kit PapworthFire crews tackled a large straw stack fire at a farm in Felmingham. Picture: Kit Papworth

"It is several thousand pounds' worth of straw but, to be honest, it is not about the financial loss," he said. "It is the fact that someone was in our yard at 3am setting light to it.

"It is just mindless and pointless. What is really worrying is the potential for loss of lives and livelihoods.

"We were very lucky. Another time, with the house and the buildings and the livestock we could have had a real disaster on our hands.

"Then there is the cost to the fire service and the loss of resources and wasting all those people's time."

Fire crews from North Walsham, Aylsham, Mundesley, Stalham and water carriers from Hethersett and Fakenham were called to the farm.

Station manager Mark Wilson-North, the senior officer on site, said there were 20 firefighters involved at the height of the blaze, and 10 hours later there was a still a crew of five containing the fire and allowing it to burn down.

"We cannot say for definite, but the biggest likelihood is that it was started deliberately," he said.

"People who do this probably don't anticipate or understand what the full potential could be. What might seem to them to be a prank puts lives, livelihoods and the environment at risk.

"The horses were moved away as a precaution, but if there was a stronger wind from a different direction the stables could have been affected.

"There is also the potential environmental impact when we have had to do some fire-fighting, from the smoke and the water that could run into watercourses. It has serious consequences to the public purse, as well as to the owner of the farm."

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