Rural insurer NFU Mutual is urging farmers to check their fire precautions and have emergency plans in place, as the latest figures show the cost of farm fires reached a five-year high last year.

Across the UK, the cost of farm fires reached £49 million. Concerningly, the cost of arson damage rose by a staggering 40% to over £9 million.

And the problem only looks set to get worse. NFU Mutual’s initial claims figures from January to July 2020 have seen an increase in both the number of incidents and total cost, suggesting that 2020 could be heading towards a six-year high.

Northern Ireland was one of just four areas of the UK to see an increase in fires, with the cost rising by more than £1 million compared to 2018.

“Farm fires put the lives of people and livestock at risk as well as having a huge emotional and business impact on farmers and their families,” said Andy Manson, managing director of NFU Mutual Risk Management Services Ltd (RMS).

“The scale of the damage we are seeing shows it’s more important than ever to reduce the risk of a fire.

Farmers not only have to be mindful of the usual farm hazards such as electrical equipment, combustible material and fuel but also protect themselves from the alarming rise in arson damage.

"Many farmers are feeling particularly vulnerable this year and with straw in short supply after the poor harvest, more and more are using remote camera systems linked to mobile phones as well as fencing off straw stacks and farm buildings to discourage arsonists.”

Electrical fires

RMS is also advising farmers to have regular electrical inspections, not to overload power supplies and have enough plug sockets to avoid using multi gangs and other adapters.

Across the UK, electrical faults accounted for over half the total last year, followed by arson which rose by 40% to £9 million.

Fires caused by electrical faults totalled £25 million last year. Operating in harsh environments, farm electrical systems often get wet, hot or dusty leading to short circuits and cable failures.

Although the number of farm fires last year was at a similar level to 2018 across the UK, the damage was more costly. The Midlands was the worst-affected region by cost in 2019, totalling £13.2 million.

NFU Mutual Farm Fire checklist

NFU Mutual Risk Management Services provides a long-established face-to-face and remote risk management consultancy service.

It is used by farms and rural businesses to identify and manage the risks in their businesses – including fire.

It advises farmers to take the following fire prevention actions:

  • Get electrical systems and equipment regularly inspected by a competent electrician;
  • Don’t overload electrical systems – and avoid using multigang connectors;
  • Ensure there are sufficient fire extinguishers for the size of buildings and that they are inspected regularly to ensure they are in the right location and condition;
  • Ensure staff and adult family members know the location of fire extinguishers and how to use them;
  • Reduce the risk of arson by fencing off straw stacks and farm buildings;
  • Use CCTV cameras on straw stacks and farm buildings, along with warning signs to deter arsonists;
  • Store hay and straw away from equipment that could give off heat (e.g. hot vehicle engines, overhead lights) and at least 10m from other buildings;
  • Put in place an evacuation plan for staff and livestock;
  • Store petrol, diesel and other fuels in secure areas;
  • Pre-plan hot works such as welding in clear areas;
  • Ensure you have safe, designated smoking areas;
  • Ensure you can direct emergency services to the exact location of fires e.g. download the what3words app which gives a unique reference code for every 3m² square - even fields;
  • Ask your local Fire and Rescue service to visit to check water supplies and access routes.

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If a fire breaks out:

  • Make sure everyone evacuates the immediate area and remains in a safe location;
  • Call the Fire and Rescue Service without delay;
  • If possible, send someone to the farm entrance to direct the Fire and Rescue Service to the fire;
  • Prepare to evacuate livestock but only if safe to do so should the fire spread.