WEST DORSET: Farmers are being warned to check their barns after a spate of fires thought to be caused by spontaneous combustion of crops.

Dorset Fire and Rescue Service has attended three serious barn blazes this week and are noting a significant rise in these incidents in rural Dorset.

Spontaneous combustion is the result of a complex chain of biological events and chemical reactions.

It 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 50 cms gap between the bales that would help the air to circulate and cool them down.”