Farmers are being urged to continually assess the risk of fire on their land by Cumbria Fire & Rescue Service.

The service said it was issuing the warning following barn fires near Ulverston and Flimby in the last month caused by “spontaneous combustion”.

“Hay bales can catch fire due to a build-up of mould caused by moisture in the hay from time of baling or from being rained on,” it said.

“Hay naturally insulates, so once the hay reaches 55°C, a chemical reaction creates flammable gas.

“If the temperature of the hay continues to rise, the heat can cause the flammable gas to combust.”

Cumbria Fire & Rescue Service said there are things farmers can do to prevent the risk of hay bale fires on their farm.

These prevention measures include:

  • Removing hay from fields as soon as possible after harvesting and ensuring that it is dry before storing it;
  • Storing hay away from other buildings, especially those that store chemicals, fuels, fertilisers, and livestock;
  • Storing hay in stacks at least 10m apart and with sufficient room between the stack and roof lighting;
  • Checking the bales regularly for any heat.

Area manager from Cumbria Fire & Rescue Service, Ian Seel, said: “Farmers have really tight timelines to harvest and we know that these timelines can be very weather dependent.

“We had some great weather in May and June which provided farmers with the opportunity to harvest earlier than normal, and we fully appreciate that they have to take these opportunities when they can.

“What we don’t want to see if farmers losing their lives or livelihoods to fires that are avoidable.”

Seel urged farmers to assess fire risks to their property including arson prevention, separating other ignition sources such as heaters from storage areas and monitoring hay bales for any excessive heat being generated.

Cumbria’s county advisor from the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), James Airey, said the union is urging its members to check their hay bales and contact their local fire service if they need help.

“Farmers should also take extra precautions given the increased risk such as having checked fire extinguishers on all vehicles involved in the harvest campaign and to put firebreaks in around fields as soon as they are harvested,” he said.

“Our county advisers and group secretaries also work with the fire service to host events on farm fire prevention, security and access to water and these safety briefings for NFU members and young farmers remain vitally important to safeguard people, livestock, buildings and crops.”