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Wildfire advice for rural landowners

With the predicted increase in periods of hot dry weather, associated with climate change, comes a higher risk of rural fires in the open and wildfires which, in turn, pose an impact on agriculture and outdoor spaces.

When fires occur there are likely to be several negative impacts on farmers and land managers ranging from increased workload, loss of crops, winter fodder, loss or damage of machinery/buildings etc. all of which will have financial implications as well as potential reputational harm.

As a business, farms are required to undertake and review risk assessments on a regular basis and take action to reduce the risk. At this time, when farms and agricultural contractors look to prepare for the harvest season, East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service would like to appeal to the rural community to consider how they can minimise the risk to their business and the wider community.

Identify and reduce the risk

Hay and straw

  • Carry out a fire risk assessment and ensure all employees are familiar with it of it along with any control measures.
  • Have extinguishers available and check they are in good working order.
  • Keep vehicles and machinery clean, serviced and in good condition. Electrical/fuel faults along with dust/chaff build have been known to cause fires.
  • Keep escape routes clear at all times and keep all areas free from rubbish, oily cloths and other combustible materials.
  • Carry a mobile phone at all times, especially if working alone.
  • Make sure you have an animal evacuation plan for your livestock in the event of a fire.
  • Do not store flammable items near livestock.
  • Maintain headlands so they act as a fire break.
  • Plan harvesting activity to reduce the risk as you work. Starting to harvest close to adjoining property improves the width of a firebreak, working from the top of a slope downhill/ into the wind can all minimise fire spread as fire travels uphill and with the wind more quickly.
  • Have equipment on standby to cut a fire break if necessary. Stay safe, only consider attempting to cut a fire break with fire service support.
  • Keep a full water tank or bowser nearby when harvesting if possible.  Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBC’s) and Slurry tankers could be used.
  • Check and maintain open water supplies that could be used for firefighting on a regular basis. We can pump from ponds/streams that are half a meter deep provided we can get to it.
  • Remind employees to be extremely careful with cigarettes and matches, particularly while harvesting.
  • Note the best access so that its available in the event of an incident. What3Words can be really helpful but please give us the one for access from the nearest road and have someone meet us there. Not just the exact location of the incident.

Stack fires happen every year due to accidents and arson. You can reduce the risk by considering the following:

  • Remove hay and straw from fields as soon as possible after harvesting.
  • Only bale when fully dry. Spontaneous combustion can occur in damp bales as they heat up as they decompose. 
  • Store hay and straw separately from other buildings.
  • Store hay and straw in stacks of reasonable size and leave adequate gaps for airflow to help reduce moisture build up.
  • Keep haystacks away from roads and other thoroughfares.
  • Ensure that stacks remain a safe distance form overhead power cables.


If you discover a fire, call the emergency services:

  • Get to a safe place.
  • Remember that crop/wildfires can be unpredictable and move quickly so go further away than you think necessary. Flames can move more quickly uphill or when fanned by the wind.
  • Note your location and call 999 asking for Fire and Rescue - remembering to give the What3Words for the access point!
  • Follow instructions from the Fire and Rescue Service.

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service understand that managing agricultural land is incredibly challenging, and that priorities such as DEFRA regulations, productivity, conservation and animal welfare all need to be balanced effectively. As the impact of climate change increases so does our need to be more vigilant to the impact of fire on our livelihood and the wider community.