Farmers in the Scottish Borders are on high alert after two major fires started in stacks of bales within an hour of one another early on Thursday morning.
The fires were only about four miles apart and while Police Scotland say it is too early to link the blazes which destroyed thousands of bales on each farm, they have appealed to anyone with any information that can assist their enquiries to call them on 101.
Emergency services received the first call from Purvishaugh Farm near Earlston just after midnight, and as crews tackled this blaze, another fire was reported on Longnewton Farm near St Boswells where 500t of bales and fertiliser were on fire.
A fire crew has remained at the Earlston farm today, dampening down and checking for hot spots.
NFU Scotland (NFUS) president Nigel Miller, who farms at Stow, just a few miles away from the blaze, said it was alarming to see the rise in Scottish farm fires and warned his neighbours to be on alert.
“There has always been concern on farms around the edge of cities and towns but what we’re seeing now seems to be on a different scale. The Borders is a very rural area and housing density is low, and we also saw a cluster of farm fires in rural Perthshire at the end of last year,” he said.
“This is a worrying time as farms are still carrying significant feedstocks and once a fire gets hold it’s very difficult to contain.”
The cost of farm fires has been rising steadily in recent years and accounts for £50m/year of claims to NFU Mutual, which insures 70% of the UK’s farmers.
Company spokesman Tim Price said the latest figures for the first six months of 2014 showed farm building, vehicle and stored produce fire claims standing at £20,356,000.
“We are very concerned when there are one or two fires in one area because it can often start copycat attacks,” he added. “So it is worth being particularly vigilant or installing alarms on gates or buildings if there have already been fires in your area,” he added.
“Most arson attacks are near roads so we advise wherever possible to store straw and hay bales away from areas that are within easy public access.
Farmers should also avoid storing machinery, fertiliser, fuel and any other inflammables near stacks of bales. We recommend being part of the Farm Watch scheme, which has strong links to the police.
“By reporting suspicious vehicles it can help track down criminals including arsonists.”