Working with farmers and landowners
Even in cases where there is no danger of an open air fire spreading or being of any risk to the public, buildings or livestock, firefighters can be tied up for hours watching the haystack or other material smoulder and burn itself out.
Crucially for Kent Fire and Rescue Service (KFRS), and the safety of the county, this means that crews are not available to deal with actual emergencies.
Over a three year period (April 2009 - October 2012):
- KFRS attended 70 open air fires that exceeded 12 hours in duration (most commonly manure, haystacks, straw and barns)
- There were 22 incidents involving baled hay or manure heaps tying crews up for over 12 hours while they burnt out
- There were five incidents involving relatively small areas of rough ground or scrubland that tied crews up for over 12 hours while they burnt out
- On two occasions crews were held up while open air fires smouldered and burnt themselves out for over 150 hours and 190 hours
We understand that in some cases farmers and land owners want to let a hay stack, burn out completely so they can plough it into the field and avoid having to dispose of sodden straw. In other cases, a barn may have been completely damaged by the fire and the farmer wants it to burn out completely to make it easier to dismantle and dispose of. However having a fire engine and crew tied up doing nothing while this happens is not a good use of this valuable and expensive resource.
It is clear from recent experience that many of these incidents could be closed down, or handed back to the owner, at a much earlier stage without any risk. For the last 6 months, KFRS has been handing control of such fires back to farmers and landowners without any problems. In many cases, farmers and landowners were keen to see this happen as having a fire engine and crew on their land for a prolonged period was getting in the way of their day-to-day business. Other fire and rescue services such as Cambridgeshire and Hampshire have been operating this system successfully for some time now and has proven to be very successful.
There is no intention to leave woodland or scrubland where there is no one to hand over responsibility to. But, where there is someone, KFRS will now consider handing over responsibility for open air fires back to the farmer or landowner at an earlier stage (which we have the legal right to do). However, KFRS also wants to reassure everyone that this will not be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model and we will work alongside farmers and landowners to find a solution that suits each incident.
How it will work
- KFRS will attend and deal with the fire and ensure there is no danger of spread as normal.
- We will then meet with the farmer or landowner at the scene, discuss any issues and agree a handover time when you can take charge of the site. We will do this as early as possible to give you plenty of notice to make any necessary arrangements.
- We understand you are busy people and will not hand over an incident if there is any risk.
- We will provide the details of a KFRS officer who will be a point of contact to support you whilst the material burns down. They can also liaise with local fire crews who will then monitor the incident occasionally to confirm everything is okay.
- In addition, an incident handover sheet to tell you about any issues you need to be aware of, such as what to do if the wind should change direction or speed.