Farming News - Farm fires reach four-year high

Farm fires reach four-year high

25 Sep 2019
Frontdesk / Finance

The cost of farm fires in the UK hit a four-year peak last year, with 2018’s prolonged, dry summer and early harvest causing devastation in the countryside.

Around 40 tonnes of hay was on fire when crews arrived at the scene.

Claims figures from the UK’s leading rural insurer NFU Mutual reveal that farm fires cost £46.4m in 2018, an increase of 27.5% on the previous year.

The East was the worst-affected region in 2018, costing the area £11.1m, a huge 225% rise from 2017. The increase was largely driven by the dry summer, with crop fires proving a particular threat. July costs alone saw an increase of more than 350% compared to the same period the previous year.

Scotland was the second worst-affected area (£7.6m), followed by the South West (£7.2m).

The increased scale of farm fires has prompted a call to farmers to check their fire prevention methods and evacuation procedures.

Rebecca Davidson, NFU Mutual Rural Insurance Specialist, said: "Fire remains one of the greatest risks to the lives and property of farmers.

“Our latest figures serve as a crucial reminder to be alert to the danger and have plans prepared and shared with family members and staff. It is possible to manage the risks by taking all possible steps to prevent fires breaking out, and to have clear plans in place to evacuate people and livestock safely in the event of a fire.”

While electrical faults continued to be the most common cause of farm fires in 2018 (37%), the prolonged, drier summer contributed to the scale of blazes. According to the Met Office*, 2018 was the driest summer since 2003 and hottest since 2006. These conditions and an early harvest left UK farmers particularly vulnerable to fires, with tinder dry crops and overheating combines and farm machinery.

The second most common cause of fire (23%) was spread from elsewhere – such as barn or homestead, followed in third place by arson (20%).

Ian Jewitt, Managing Director of NFU Mutual Risk Management Services, said: “Electrical faults are the biggest cause of farm fires and we’d advise farmers to schedule regular safety checks of electrical equipment to help minimise that risk.  Consider fencing off straw stacks and farm buildings to discourage arsonists and make it harder for fires to spread by keeping hay and straw at least 10 meters away from farm buildings.

“To enable you to fight a small fire safely, keep fire extinguishers in good working order and make adults living and working on the farm aware of where they can be found and how they should be used.”

NFU Mutual farm fire claims cost by region (nearest £100,000)

Region

2018

2017

% Cost change

East

£11.1m

£3.4m

224.5%

Scotland

£7.6m

£4.0m

89.8%

South West

£7.2m

£6.4m

13.7%

South East

£5.9m

£4.1m

42.9%

North East

£4.7m

£4.0m

15.8%

Midlands

£4.3m

£5.3m

-19.6%

North West

£3.2m

£3.9m

-19.2%

Northern Ireland

£1.6m

£1.6m

1.7%

Wales

£0.9m

£1.3m

-31.8%

NFU Mutual Farm Fire checklist

Fire Prevention:

  • Ensure there are sufficient fire extinguishers for the size of buildings and that materials stored are inspected and regularly maintained
  • Ensure staff and adult family members know the location of fire extinguishers and how to use them
  • Reduce the risk of arson by fencing-off straw stacks and farm buildings
  • Store hay and straw at least 10m from other buildings
  • Put in place an evacuation plan for staff and livestock
  • Store petrol, diesel and other fuels in secure areas
  • Schedule regular electrical safety checks
  • Invite your local fire and rescue service to visit to check water supplies and access routes

If a fire breaks out:

  • Call the Fire and Rescue Service without delay
  • If possible, send someone to the farm entrance to direct the Fire and Rescue Service to the fire to help save time
  • Prepare to evacuate livestock should the fire spread
  • Prepare to use your farm machinery to assist the Fire and Rescue Service
  • Use the What3Words app to guide emergency services to the exact location of the fire