FIRE chiefs have warned farmers about the dangers of spontaneous combustion.

Dorset Fire and Rescue Service have attended three serious barn fires in the past two days and are noting a significant rise in these fires across rural areas of Dorset. It appears these fires were potentially caused by spontaneous combustion of crops.

Spontaneous combustion is the result of a complex chain of biological events and chemical reactions, and can happen if crops are not dry enough when stored in bulk and put away too soon. It begins with a slow process where heat slowly builds up and cannot dissipate in the centre of a haystack. The oxidation gradually raises the temperature inside to the point at which a fire starts.

Andy Fox, Head of Fire Safety said ”We are issuing a warning to farmers, asking them to check their barns regularly, looking for heating of hay, and a distinctive chocolate/caramel or musty smell, which indicates the stack is heating up. If you do suspect there may be a deep seated fire, call us immediately on 999 and then move any livestock, then machinery and hazardous items from the area, as any investigative movement of the bales can cause the fire to rapidly spread.

“To try to prevent this occurring stack the bales further apart or in smaller stacks. Using bigger bales presents more of a problem because the crop is packed tighter, if farmers can think about leaving about a 50cm gap between the bales that would help the air to circulate and cool them down.

“Every year Dorset Fire and Rescue Service crews attend numerous farm or agricultural-building fires. Not only can farming business be adversely affected, smoke damaged materials will not sell, but there is obviously an imminent danger to livestock.”