Arsonists target straw stacks at Sprowston farm twice in 24 hours
- Credit: Submitted
A farm owner has hit out at the 'brazen' arsonists who targeted her family business twice in consecutive nights.
Following the harvest of this season's cereal crops, intruders broke into White House Farm, off Blue Boar Lane in Sprowston, and set a large straw stack ablaze in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Firefighters took four hours to bring the flames under control – but the farm's owners were stunned when the arsonists returned 24 hours later to set fire to another 200-tonne stack of straw bales in a different, more isolated field.
The farm, which specialises in pick-your-own fruit, is run by Charlotte Gurney and her husband Oliver, a former Royal Marine.
Mrs Gurney said CCTV footage showing a hooded figure had been handed to the police, while detectives and a sniffer dog have been scouring the site for clues.
She said the bales were still smouldering today, and about £4,000 of straw had been destroyed. But the greater concern was the invasion of privacy and the apparent level of planning which went into starting fires which could have posed a potential threat to farm buildings and other property.
She said: 'I don't know why someone would do this, but who does it twice? It is so brazen.
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'They broke in to some of the barns and I thought they were looking for petrol.
'I couldn't believe it when I heard they had returned to the crime scene and done it again. Rather nerve-wrenchingly it was in a different field, which is completely hidden from public view – you would have to come past our house and the farm buildings down a track.
'My first reaction was that anyone on Salhouse Road could see these stacks of straw, but they didn't choose those ones. They came right into the farm. It is quite frightening to think how they mapped out the farm. It covers a huge acreage with no signs telling you where to go.
'It is very unnerving, but people's reaction via our Facebook page has been unbelievable. It is nice to feel the local community rallying round.'
Mrs Gurney said the farm's concerns about the risks from fires could even force a change of cropping choices in future - particularly with large housing developments planned nearby.
'We have got 1,200 houses coming in during the next two or three years, and it does make me wonder if we will be forced to stop growing certain things if this is what people are going to get a kick out of,' she said. 'It has made me think that if this is going to be a constant problem then we may have to grow something more sensible that people cannot set fire to.'
Norfolk police confirmed that the two fires are being treated as arson, and are still under investigation.
Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service has issued advice to farmers to help reduce the risk of straw stack fires, including positioning stacks out of public view and away from buildings, roads and footpaths. Officers also advise removing straw from the field as soon as possible, and splitting large stacks into smaller ones with 10-metre gaps so that unburnt straw can be removed safely in the event of a fire.
Claire Wright, East regional adviser for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) added: 'These often-deliberate blazes can burn for days at a time and occupy fire and police service personnel when they could be attending an emergency elsewhere.
'Such fires destroy important material used in arable and livestock farming and can spread rapidly, threatening buildings, livestock, machinery and potentially human lives. The cost to farming businesses can easily run into thousands of pounds.
'Stacks often have to be located next to tracks or roadways to allow lorries access, but this also allows access to people who wish to set fire to them. Wherever possible, there should be fewer, more isolated stacks with increased security which could include restricting access to farm tracks.
'If members of the public see anyone acting suspiciously near straw stacks then they should report the incident to police by calling 101, or 999 in an emergency.'
Anyone with information about the straw stack fires at White House Farm should contact Norfolk police on 101.