Farm fires are burning holes in insurers’ pockets, with claims in Northern Ireland rising by more than a million pounds in just a year.

Last year farm fire claims cost £3.1 million in the region – a sum more than one and a half times the £2 million it cost back in 2015.

The latest NFU Mutual figures showed an increase throughout the UK where the cost of farm fires rose by more than a quarter to £44 million in 2016.

According to the insurer, the most common cause was electrical faults, which were responsible for almost half of 2016 fire claims. Arson was the next most common cause.

Randalstown fire

The news comes just days after a major blaze wiped out a well-known Co. Antrim farmer’s straw supply.

James Alexander, who is a familiar face among fans of UTV farming programme ‘Rare Breed’, said he estimated the damage on his farm would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The sharp rise has prompted leading rural insurer NFU Mutual to call for farmers to check their fire prevention and evacuation procedures.

The most common cause of farm fires was electrical faults, which were responsible for almost half of 2016 fire claims, according to the insurer. Arson was the next most common cause.

‘One of the greatest hazards’

Tim Price, NFU Mutual rural affairs specialist, said: “Farm fires are one of the greatest hazards to the lives of farmers, workers and livestock.”

Price added that country dwellers were “concerned” by longer fire service response times in very rural locations.

This makes it more important than ever for farmers and country people to maintain their buildings and equipment to reduce the risk of a fire breaking out – and have evacuation and fire-fighting plans prepared and shared with family members and staff.

“The first priority if a fire breaks out is to ensure people and livestock are safe.

“However, with training and the right sort of fire extinguishers in place, it is often possible for farmers to tackle a small fire and prevent it turning into a major blaze without putting themselves at risk.”