The combines have started rolling across Fenland as the cereal harvest begins in earnest – the grain is rapidly coming into store and the straw is being baled and stacked.
The summer and harvest period are exceptionally busy times on farms, but this is the time when everyone needs to be aware of the increased chance of arson. Historically, between July and October, incidents of deliberate stack fires increase with Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue statistics showing that there were 17 last year – an increase of five compared with 2012 to 2013.
Deliberate straw stack fires destroy important material used in both arable and livestock farming – it’s not just a by-product of the cereal crop and bales can be worth thousands of pounds.
Not only is it difficult and expensive to replace, but straw stack fires can spread rapidly – threatening standing crops, buildings, livestock, machinery and potentially human lives.
These incidents tie up fire service personnel for hours when they may be needed elsewhere and the large amounts of smoke that result can also create a hazard to nearby road users.
Starting fires is highly dangerous and carries a minimum sentence of five years for those convicted – however this will be a life sentence behind bars if someone dies as a result of this irresponsible behaviour.
The CLA are calling on farmers across Fenland to follow the guidance from the Fire Service and Police on positioning stacks in order to lower the risk of being a victim of malicious fires – and to minimise damage should your farm become a target.
They make several recommendations to beat arsonists – such as locating stacks away from public roads and visible places, and splitting large stacks into smaller stacks with a 10m gap down the middle, so there is a chance to move unburnt straw away from any blaze. In addition, it is recommended bales should not be stacked near buildings where livestock or machinery is kept, to reduce the risk of losing both the stack and the contents of the building to fire.
Also, straw should be removed from the field as soon as possible – if it has to be left overnight then consider blocking access routes to it.
The CLA is also encouraging members of the local community across the Fenland area to report any suspicious activity that they see near stacks this summer. A simple call to the Police on 101 (or 999 if it is an emergency) could very well prevent an arson that leaves a farm business – and people’s lives – in danger.