Farmer forced to watch farm go up in flames as water shortage in Yorkshire meant fire crews had to switch off hoses
Dairy farmer Sam Naylor suspects that skylights in his barn, which was only five years old, led to the dry straw and hay underneath overheating and bursting into flames in the hot weather of 2022.
He farms a 1,000-acre dairy farm near Ilkley with a 300-strong milking herd. The herd is mainly Friesians and Holsteins but includes dairy shorthorn and Montbeliarde cows.
Fire crews fought the blaze for several hours using multiple hoses to try and bring the intense fire under control but water authority officials arrived to tell him fire crews were using so much water that supplies to the nearby town of Ilkley were threatened.
They had to stop the hoses for two hours while the fire continued to burn. By the time water supply was turned on again, the barn was completely burnt out.
It was two months before the debris could be moved and even them was still so hot that one of the farm trailers moving it caught fire.
As well as the barn, two tractors, a sprayer and 100 wrapped hay bales were also destroyed.
He said: “The firefighters were doing a great job – and then they were told to turn off the hoses for two hours or supplies to the town would be lost.
"By the time they could turn the hoses back on, there wasn’t anything left to save.
“With the barn gone, all work on the farm was completely disrupted and we needed to get a new building up quickly.”
Due to his cover with NFU Mutual, the new barn – without skylights – was up within five months and the insurance firm is warning that with weather set to become more extreme in the future with drier and hotter summers on the horizon, farmers should have a fire-prevention plan.
Farm fires, many as a result of last year’s extreme heatwave, caused £12m damage in the North East, figures show.
There was also an increase in incidents, compared with the previous year.
Rural insurer NFU Mutual dealt with more than 2,200 farm-fire claims involving growing crops, buildings and equipment in 2022, compared to over 1,800 in 2021. The cost totalled £83.5m.
In addition, UK agricultural vehicle fire claims, recorded separately by NFU Mutual, increased by 13 per cent last year.
Of this, combine harvesters were the farm vehicles hardest hit by fire, with the number doubling in 2022 to 258.
Higher repair and replacement costs led to a rise of 211 per cent to £11.1m in the value of combine fire claims.
Hannah Binns, NFU Mutual rural affairs specialist, said: "For weeks on end last summer, the countryside was so dry that a spark or overheating combine bearing could lead to a fire, engulfing the machine and spreading to the surrounding crops.
“Farmers did a great job putting in place bowsers of water in their fields so fires could be tackled quickly and ploughing fire breaks across fields to stop fires spreading – but even these measures weren’t enough to prevent hundreds of combines, tractors and balers, together with thousands of acres of crops, being destroyed.
“Farm fires put lives at risk as well as causing disruptive and devastating damage to rural businesses, so it is essential farmers have fire plans in place.”