Photos: Farmer leaps to safety from ‘fireball’ combine

Flames leapt 50ft into the air after a Surrey farmer jumped from his combine which caught fire while he was harvesting wheat.

Laurence Matthews drove the Claas 580 Terra Trac combine away from his crop before jumping out of the burning vehicle at Manor Farm, Wotton, near Dorking.

Combine on fire

© Manor Farm Surrey

“A warning light came on saying it had lost hydraulic pressure and then I spotted flames dancing out the back of the engine behind the tank,” he told Farmers Weekly.

See also: More health and safety news

“I jumped back in the cab and tried to drive the combine out of the field but I didn’t get very far before the engine failed. But I got it far enough away from the crop for it not to catch fire.”

Combine on fire

© Manor Farm Surrey

By that stage, the fire was “really going,” said Mr Matthews.

“We are right next to the A25 and there are buildings, including churches, all around us. I wanted to save my crop but it would also have caused devastation around the local area.”

Mr Matthews said he was initially oblivious to the fire, which was first spotted by one of his tractor drivers who was carting grain.

Firefighters tacking combine fire

© Laurence Matthews

“He spotted it and tried to call me but my mobile phone was flat. So he chased up the field by which time I had spotted the fire and was trying to drive the combine off the field.”

After calling the fire brigade, Mr Matthews said he used fire extinguishers to dowse straw and contain the fire to a limited area.

“The fire brigade turned up and luckily the wind was blowing away from the crop. But by that time flames were 50-60ft in the air.

Firefighters tacking combine fire

© Laurence Matthews

Mr Matthews said: “We had just filled up with diesel and the tank holds about 850 litres so then that went up as well – and the flames were even higher then. It was a real fireball.”

See also: More harvest photos

“You could hear it popping as the gas cylinders went.

Firefighters tacking combine fire

© Laurence Matthews

“We lost the grain too – I am not sure exactly but it was holding about five or six tonnes of Crusoe milling wheat.”

The fire burned itself after about five hours, said Mr Matthews.

Rural insurer NFU Mutual had been “very helpful” and Claas had arranged a replacement combine soon afterwards, he added.

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