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Arsonists turn up the heat

Looking across the fields at the blaze on Sunday night. Photo by Coun Mark Suffield. EMN-141021-112621001
Looking across the fields at the blaze on Sunday night. Photo by Coun Mark Suffield. EMN-141021-112621001

Harvest is now getting into full swing, with the rumble of combines across the Fenland area signalling the busiest time of year for our farmers.

While their immediate attention will be on beating the weather and getting the corn carted and the straw baled as quickly as they can, the CLA is advising them to consider the fact that there is a spike of fires around harvest time.

These often-deliberate blazes can burn for days at a time and occupy fire and police service personnel when they could be attending an emergency elsewhere.

Such fires destroy important material used in arable and livestock farming and can spread rapidly, threatening buildings, livestock, machinery and potentially human lives. The cost to farming businesses can easily run into thousands of pounds.

In order to beat the arsonists, farmers are advised to: remove hay and straw from the field as soon as possible, if it has to be left overnight consider blocking access routes to it; stack bales away from buildings that house livestock or have chemicals, machinery and fuel stored inside; keep bales out of view from public roads or rights of way if possible; and split large stacks into smaller stacks that are at least 10 metres apart.

If members of the public see anyone acting suspiciously near straw stacks then they should report the incident to Police by calling 101 or 999 in an emergency.

There is also a concern that an upsurge in sales of Chinese lanterns over the holiday period may also put straw stacks at risk, while also posing a threat to standing crops.

A Defra report estimated that between three and eight million lanterns are sold each year, while a study by Kent & Sussex Fire Service found that even when they are not showing a flame a lantern’s fuel cell can still show a spot temperature of 230°.

As a result, it would be ignorant not to consider lanterns as very serious fire hazards.

If one of these flying bonfires were to land in a tinder dry field or on a straw stack then the farmer could be facing a very costly blaze that would not only endanger his business, but potentially human lives, too.

There is also the real threat the remnants of the lantern could be cut up and end up in silage eaten by cattle, which would cause the unfortunate animal to suffer a slow and agonising death.

I hope that if you’re considering lighting a lantern as part of a celebration event this summer, you will consider the serious risk to rural businesses, wildlife and the environment your actions will pose.

Essentially, you will be releasing a flying bonfire with absolutely no control over where it lands. I am looking to collect evidence of damage caused by sky lanterns across the Fenland area to help lobby Government for a ban.

Those who have experienced problems with them falling on their land or property should email me at claire.wright@cla.org.uk call 01638 590429, or address tweets to @CLAEast.

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