In one of the driest summers since records began, July 2022 saw just 56% of average rainfall for the month. July also went down in UK climate history as temperatures reached over 40℃ for the first time, pushing much of the UK into an official drought over part of the summer period.
As the summer heatwave scorched much of Europe with prolonged dry conditions, wildfires surged across the region. In the UK, the number of wildfires tripled in 2022 compared to 2021, as the dry, parched land proved to be the perfect tinder box - but what can we do?
With the summer sun set to get even more extreme in the coming years, let’s explore some of the mitigation measures to reduce the likelihood of wildfires in the future.
During the first and second lockdowns, the number of arson attacks rose dramatically. The key to protecting property from such attacks is security. This can be as simple as erecting barriers and gates rather than leaving gateways open and investing in CCTV. From affordable, easy-to-install systems, to the more complex monitoring systems installed by industry professionals, accompanying these tools with obligatory warning signs makes your property less attractive to anyone with mischief on their mind.
In addition to security, target combustible materials. Think carefully about where and how things are stored. Ask yourself, could the straw be stored further away from the main yard? Is it possible to place potato boxes further away? Remove any timber that is stacked against the building. It can help to look at the farm through the eyes of an arsonist - if it will burn, move it away from vulnerable property.
Secure your storage facilities when you are not using them and encourage staff, tenants and neighbours to report any suspicious activity through a shared, community monitoring channel. Such groups can easily be set up on platforms such as WhatsApp.
Be mindful that most of the fire engines likely to attend farm fires will carry a limited capacity of water. This will only last a few minutes when fighting a fire. Most fire services generally rely on local water sources to enable them to fully extinguish fires.
To help the emergency services, familiarise yourself with the location of your nearest water source(s). It could be in the form of main fire hydrants, nearby streams, ponds or even local lakes.
In addition, ensure fire extinguishers are fitted around the farm in logical, accessible locations and clearly signposted. Place extinguishers near the workshop, the farm office and near the barn. Fire extinguishers should be checked annually by a third party and checked monthly in-house, to ensure they are fit for purpose.
If you have particularly high-risk operations such as grain drying or hop drying, consider mobile water bowsers or IBCs adjacent to the area of operation. Discuss your best options and involve your local fire department to determine the most effective solution for you. Invite the fire department to come and explore your farm/land. Provide them with a copy of the emergency plan to show diesel tanks, hazardous materials, gas cylinder locations, water sources and anything else you think may be helpful in an emergency.
Property and land are not the only things that burn. Equipment can also face combustive risk. Machines should be fitted with fire extinguishers for immediate access if required. New balers and combines, for example, come with fire extinguishers as standard but be sure to install/refit them on older machines. These extinguishers are often missed in standard maintenance checklists. However, they can easily be out of warranty, so if in doubt, double-check.
Fire suppression systems are available for combines. They feature a heat detection cord which triggers single or dual agent suppression. These systems are available from multiple suppliers. Check with your insurer regarding approved ones, as it can save a valuable machine while also preventing a field fire.
Alternatively, you can hire a hydrovane compressor from a plant hire firm and blow down all equipment regularly throughout harvest. This helps to prevent dust build-up and therefore reduces the risk of fire.
Extra Little Things: Firebreaks
With the dry conditions of 2022 set to become a more common occurrence in the future, prepare for the risks directly associated with parched land. To do this, keep a cultivator attached to a tractor and strategically located. This way, you can create an essential fire break in the event of a field fire occurring.
Many wildfires are started by litter thrown from cars. If you can spare time throughout the year, venture to the roads along the edges of your fields and remove anything you see that has the potential to magnify a spark.
Fires can be devastating - rapidly destroying property, livelihoods and even life itself. A few proactive measures undertaken promptly may make all the difference to your farm or that of your client.
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