The summer heatwave and this year’s harvest has seen a considerable number of barn and machinery fires across the region.

Many of the fires were caused by spontaneous combustion but fire services are also urging farmers to clean and maintain their machinery to avoid fire.

Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service group manager Graham Kewley said: “As the harvest goes on, farmers are working long, hard hours and it’s easy to let chaff and dust build up in the machines, which can then catch fire if parts of the combine then overheat.

“The problem is compounded when machinery is worked extra hard between periods of inclement weather, or when crops are harvested and stored in less than ideal conditions.

“Baling hay that is damp can create a real fire hazard, as this can lead to heat build-up and eventual self-combustion within the bale.”

If the temperature of a haystack rises above 55 degrees Centigrade, a chemical reaction occurs which produces a flammable gas.

This can ignite when the temperature gets high enough.

South West Farmer: Around 500 hay bales were destroyed in the barn fire in Brean on August 18Around 500 hay bales were destroyed in the barn fire in Brean on August 18

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service is advising farmers to be especially aware of the fire risk when making and storing hay in damp weather.

The team recommend that hay and straw are removed from the fields as soon as possible after harvest.

It should be dry before storing and then stored in stacks at least 10 metres apart, with enough space between the top of the stack and any electrical roof lighting.

Hay and straw should be stored away from livestock and from other buildings - and definitely any that are holding fuels, chemicals.

They also advise monitoring the temperature of the haystacks with a thermometer.

If there is a caramel or musty smell coming from the stacks, it is a sign that the hay is heating.

The fire service is also reminding farmers to carry out a fire risk assessment for their buildings.

Part of this process should identify access and water supplies to assist firefighters and the location of hazards such as cylinders, fertilisers and flammable liquids.

Group manager Kewley said: “We also encourage farmers to have a farm emergency plan – this can save vital minutes in the event of an incident, and will help firefighters to deal with a fire more quickly and more safely.”

NFU Mutual has produced a safety checklist to help prevent combine fires:

  • Regularly clean out dust and chaff from hot spots in combines and balers
  • Switch off engines and ensure moving parts have stopped before clearing blockages or carrying out maintenance
  • Always stop to investigate hot-running engines or bearings
  • Put in place a system for keeping in contact with lone workers
  • Keep mobile phones on your person – not left in a tractor or pick up cab
  • Make sure that drivers are aware of the locations and heights of power lines and check that machines will safely pass under wires
  • Make sure there is a fire extinguisher on the combine – and that it is regularly maintained
  • Clean dust regularly from grain dryers – and ensure that all staff running the drier are fully trained and know what to do if fire breaks out
  • Ensure that fire extinguishers are readily accessible
  • Make sure ladders and platforms used for maintenance are in good condition and a safe system of work is in operation