Leicestershire Police has joined forces with Northamptonshire Police’s Rural Crime Team and fire and rescue service to launch an operation to tackle haystack fires this summer.
Operation Clock has been set up to coincide with the harvest season which last year saw six arson attacks in Northamptonshire and a further four in Leicestershire, which had a significant impact on farming and rural communities.
Such reckless acts not only cost hundreds of thousands in damages to the valuable crop harvest, they also cost the fire and rescue services on average £150,000 to attend per incident.
Through education and enforcement, the operation aims to prevent deliberate hay and straw stack fires as well as provide a joint approach to investigating suspected arsons.
Sergeant Paul Archer of Leicestershire’s Rural Policing Team said: “Without hay, a farmer cannot feed their animals. Not only is it devastating to a farmer, it can also have very significant financial implications – a haystack can be worth more than £40,000 so it can have a huge impact on farmers.
“To set fire to something which has taken a year to grow and harvest is pointless and puts lives and livelihoods at risk. We need the community to come together and tell us what they know. If you see any people or vehicles acting suspiciously, please tell us.”
PC Abbey Anstead of Northamptonshire Police’s Rural Crime Team said: “With the better weather comes the busiest time of year for our arable farmers as they get ready to harvest the result of 12 months of hard work.
“With this though comes its own hazards, one being hay and straw stacks being deliberately set on fire both out in the fields and on farmyards, which not only has a huge financial impact but endangers lives.
“Working with our colleagues from the fire and rescue services and Leicestershire Police, we will be promoting farm safety and providing crime prevention advice to prevent arsons as well as investigate any reports of suspected arson.”
Farming and rural communities are being encouraged to take these simple steps to help prevent incidents:
Carry out a fire risk assessment to identify hazards and people at risk, and keep a written copy
Do not build stacks to close to buildings or hedge rows
Keep stacks at least 10 metres away from each other and nearby buildings and hedge rows
Keep stacks away from fuel, fertilizer, machinery and overhead power lines
Ensure you remove hay and straw from the harvest field as soon as possible. If it needs to be left overnight, block any access routes to it
Do not build stacks over underground services such as gas pipes and water mains
Avoid siting stacks near to public access and roads as they could be vulnerable to fires from discarded cigarettes or deliberate ignition
Find out where the nearest open water supplies are, available for possible fire service access
Remove waste products regularly to minimise the risk
Download the What3Words app to help provide an exact location to the emergency services
In the event of a fire, call 999. If possible, send someone out on to the nearest road to direct the emergency services to the fire
Sanjay Bulsara, Station Manager Fire Protection at Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service, added: “Not only do haystack fires cost farming businesses thousands of pounds, they also cause huge disruption to rural communities.
“What might look like a small fire has the potential to spread very easily and become major fires very quickly. These fires put our crews at risk and could also delay our ability to respond to another emergency.
“We will continue to work hard to prevent these incidents from taking place, and we encourage farming communities to take steps to protect their property from arson attacks.”
Anyone who witnesses any suspicious activity when out and about in farming and rural communities, around hay or straw stacks, is asked to call Northamptonshire or Leicestershire Police on 101, quoting Operation Clock.
If anyone has any information about a deliberate fire-setting incident, please let us know via FireStoppers, which is anonymous by calling 0800 169 5558 or visiting www.firestoppersreport.co.uk.
Anyone who witnesses a fire in progress should call 999 immediately.