Farmer escapes from tractor fire

IAN CLARKE A sheep farmer yesterday told of his "lucky escape" after his JCB tractor became engulfed in flames as he was driving to work.

IAN CLARKE

A sheep farmer yesterday told of his "lucky escape" after his JCB tractor became engulfed in flames as he was driving to work.

Chris Lakey's vehicle was turned into a fireball on the B1110 at Guist, near Dereham, just before 5am.

Mr Lakey, of Briston, near Holt, told the EDP he suddenly smelt burning as he was driving his tractor and realised there were flames coming from the back of the vehicle.

He turned off the engine and jumped out of the cab. The tractor was gutted and will cost £60,000 to replace.

The road had to be closed and resurfaced as the fire caused such bad damage to the carriageway.

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Two crews tackled the burning tractor and it was among a number of incidents across Norfolk as the fire service faced another busy day as the heatwave reached its peak.

In the biggest blaze yesterday afternoon, 12 crews fought flames in three fields totalling 80 hectares of standing barley just off the A47 at East Winch, near King's Lynn. The fire came 24 hours after more than 40 firefighters had battled a blaze in a nearby field.

The latest fire on Gayton Road was well away from homes but police were drafted in to warn nearby residents and a force helicopter indicated the size and direction of the flames.

Beaters and farm machinery were used as part of the operation.

Fire-service area manager for the west David McMahon said: "People may not be aware that we are relying on our retained staff. We would like to say thank-you to all the employers who allow our retained crews to leave their jobs and come and fight these fires during this hot spell."

Fire-service spokesman Martin Barsby said the East Winch blaze was "by far the biggest" that they had to deal with yesterday.

During the afternoon and evening there were also fires in 10 hectares of standing corn and stubble at Thurning, near Reepham, and in four hectares of crops at Bury Road, Thetford.

Firefighters from Norfolk and Suffolk were called to tackle a blaze in crops and 30 tonnes of baled straw at Fen Street, Redgrave, near Diss, just before 3.30pm yesterday.

Mr Barsby said it was "hard to believe" that people were still lighting bonfires in the heatwave.

One set off at a grass fire at Saxlingham Thorpe, near Holt.

At Guist, Mr Lakey tried to tackle the tractor blaze himself using a fire extinguisher carried on the vehicle but the flames were too powerful and he could only wait for two Fakenham fire crews to arrive. He said: "The fire started in the back end of the vehicle and within minutes the whole vehicle had become engulfed in flames. I think I had a lucky escape because the flames seemed to spread so quickly."

The flames also spread to a small number of trees and a telegraph post.

Several people made 999 calls after seeing the tractor catch fire and hearing banging noises.

Meanwhile, two fire engines were called to Gaywood, Lynn, just before 7am yesterday after a car fire set light to trees. Earlier, crews dealt with a fire involving a garden bench at Woodlands home for the elderly on Grimston Road, South Wootton, which spread to a building.

Among other incidents in the county yesterday were grass fires at Gurney Road, Sloughbottom Road and Sweet Briar Road in Norwich.