More than 800 machine fires ignite this harvest

According to insurance specialist NFU Mutual, dry Tinder harvest conditions have sparked more than 800 farm machinery fires across the UK this harvest.

This equates to nine machines catching fire a day during the summer months – a significant jump from the six a day reported during the same period last year.

These figures do not include the incidence of general fires on farms, which saw another 13 fires reported per day in July and August, compared to eight per day last year.

See also: Farmer Focus: Monday scorchio Tuesday scorchio Wednesday…

scorching temperatures

In any given year, farm and farm machinery fires tend to peak in July and August, a time when farmers are harvesting and conditions are hotter and drier than other months.

Dust, hot moving parts, electrical wiring and a full tank of diesel provide all the ingredients for a major fire, says Andrew Chalk, rural insurance specialist at the firm.

With this year’s scorching temperatures combined with low rainfall dramatically increasing the risk of fires, the number of reports exceeds those made during the same period in 2021.

According to estimates from company statements, farm fires cost nearly £97m in 2021 and farm machinery fires cost a further £37m, highlighting the additional cost the 2022 season is expected to entail.

It’s so important for farmers to review their fire safety features to minimize the risk of a fire getting out of control, Chalk continues.

“Farmers should also stay in regular contact with their insurer to ensure they are fully protected if the worst happens. Prevention is the best measure,” he says.

Case Study: Tim Ashton, Soulton Hall, Shropshire

Shropshire farmer Tim Ashton was one of many unlucky growers to suffer a combine fire this harvest in the second week of August.

Despite cleaning the combine with a leaf blower earlier in the morning, Mr Ashton had only been harvesting his winter wheat crop for about two hours when the machine caught fire.

“It all happened so fast. I don’t know exactly for sure, but I think something happened with the engine’s ability to cool down.

© Tim Ashton

“The controls weren’t working properly so I got out of the combine to take a look and that’s when I saw the fire.”

He immediately reached for the extinguisher to tackle the flames, but it quickly escalated.


He needed to isolate the fire quickly, so he retrieved the JCB telescopic handler which he was using to level the crop and create a firebreak.

Meanwhile, neighboring farmer Anthony Ford was on the scene, cultivating a strip around the fire to form another firewall, and emergency services were on the way.

“I would like to publicly thank my neighbour, Anthony, who helped me contain the fire, and the emergency services, who did a wonderful job. They had an excellent response team, with three fire trucks controlling the fire and making sure no one was hurt.

One of Mr Ashton’s main concerns was the fire spreading to the heritage home of Soulton Hall and the surrounding woods – which he says inspired a number of Shakespeare’s plays – but luckily the fire was contained in a few square meters.

However, by this stage the fire had reached a scale that meant the complete loss of the combine, but Mr Ashton admits it could have been much worse.

With 60ha remaining to be cut, Mr Ashton says the community has offered really great help and support. A local contractor helped him finish the last harvest, which meant he was only three days late to complete the set.

Risk reduction

He advises farmers to be careful when harvesting and stresses the real need for a fire management plan.

“Having a fire plan in place to protect crops and the wider landscape is essential to prevent fires from spreading.

“We did everything as professionally as we could. We had the combine blown up by an independent contractor that morning and provided bulk water on hand as we knew the fire hazard.

Grilled combine harvester

© Tim Ashton

“It’s really important to think about risk management and consider the possibilities of what you would do in the event of a fire. We had a partial fire in the 1990s, but nothing to this point.

Mr Ashton noted that there were around six more combine harvester fires a day that week in Shropshire, and the day after his machine was lost another fire was spotted in the local area.

He hopes to work more closely with firefighters in the future, supporting crews with on-farm fire drill training and practice to help services continue their training and development in prevention and control. farm fires.

Safety tips when working with agricultural machinery

  • Ensure planned preventative maintenance is up to date and in accordance with manufacturers’ maintenance schedules before using any machinery
  • Install a fire extinguishing system that meets P-mark status to contain, extinguish and prevent fires
  • Regularly clean dust and chaff from hot spots and check the machine when you are done using it for the day.
  • Use a portable compressor to regularly blow debris out of the machine, but only do so if the outlet pressure is reduced (as a guide, 30 psi/2.1 bar is effective for cleaning)
  • Wear eye and respiratory protection to protect yourself from dust and never point an air line at a person to remove dust from clothing, as there is a risk of injecting air into the skin and causing bubbles in the blood
  • Shut off motors and make sure moving parts have stopped before clearing blockages or performing maintenance
  • Always stop to examine hot motors or bearings
  • Have a plan in place in the event of a fire, including a system for maintaining contact with lone workers and anyone working or living on the farm
  • Keep cell phones on you at all times – no use to you if left in a tractor or van
  • Keep a fire extinguisher on the combine and ensure it is serviced regularly
  • Keep a full ton of water on hand and be prepared to create a firebreak in the event of a crop fire
  • Use the What3Words app to help emergency services easily find your location
  • Make sure conductors know the locations and heights of power lines and verify that you will pass safely under the cables
  • Remind staff to stay hydrated, take enough breaks, and monitor fatigue and stress
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