A major farm fire which destroyed 20ha of wheat, barley and straw along with a £60,000 tractor is being treated as accidental.
About 30 firefighters from East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS) tackled the field fire which broke out shortly before 3pm on Wednesday (25 July) at Berwick Court Farm in Alfriston, East Sussex.
About 1,500 visitors to nearby Drusilla Zoo were evacuated after the fire sent plumes of choking smoke billowing across the skies.
The fire service also asked motorists to avoid the A27 Alfriston Road as they tackled the flames.
Assisted @Sussex_Fire_999 and @sussex_police with aerial imagery of a large fire #alfriston #sussex earlier today. Thanks to @drusillaspark for allowing us to land in their carpark and for providing everyone with bottled water. Great work by the fire crews for tackling it! JM pic.twitter.com/O9ZX1Q9QfK
— NPAS Redhill (@NPASRedhill) July 25, 2018
At the height of the incident, six fire engines were at the scene, with four Landrovers, one water bowser and a support command unit. All the crews were stood down at 9pm on Wednesday.
‘Nervous and frightening’ experience
Farmer Paul Lewis, of Berwick Court Farm, told the BBC: “It’s been pretty nervous and frightening to be honest.
“We think the fire was caused by hot machinery, a flint and an accidental spark.
“I didn’t want my machinery to go up in flames obviously, and I’ve spent nine months getting my crops to this stage, so to see it just go up in smoke is a complete crying waste.”
— Southdown Shepherd (@SDshepherd) July 25, 2018
A spokeswoman for ESFRS said: “The cause of the fire has not been confirmed at this stage, but it is being treated as non-suspicious.”
A spokesman for Drusilla Park said on Thursday (26 July): “We are open today – it’s business as usual at the park.
“We are truly thankful that all visitors, staff and animals are safe. We feel so lucky to have such wonderful support.”
Series of farm fires
It is the latest in a string of major field fires to have caused serious damage on farms in the summer heatwave.
On 14 July, farming neighbours rallied to contain a huge field fire that ripped through 47ha of winter barley at farmer Bernard Wallis’ farm in Ewelme, near Wallingford, Oxfordshire.
The farmers worked together to create fire breaks, which saved 8,000 pigs in neighbouring fields from being burned alive.
In Berkshire, flames tore through farmer Colin Rayner’s field of barley on 9 July, causing £28,000 worth of damage.
The school holidays began for most children last Friday (20 July). The fire service urged the public to act responsibly at all times while out in the countryside.
Tips to prevent a farm fire becoming a major incident
- Regularly clean out dust and chaff from hotspots in combines and balers
- Always stop to investigate hot-running bearings and engines
- Ensure you have fit-for-purpose and maintained fire extinguishers with every vehicle during harvest
- In breezy conditions, consider harvesting from downwind and in an upwind direction, ensuring if a fire does occur it is not driven by the wind through standing crops
- If a fire does break out, call the fire service immediately giving the exact location and best access route for fire appliances. Ideally post staff who can direct crews to the incident
- Have a tractor and associated equipment ready to cut a fire break if necessary
- If safe to do so, plough or rake around the fire to create a fire break. This will slow the progress and spread of the fire
- Keep a full water bowser or tank nearby
- Consider cultivating fire breaks around fields after harvest
(Source: Dorset Fire and Rescue Service)