Bumper £11.1m bill for fires which raged across East of England farms in 2018

A huge field fire near Ipswich in 2019 Picture: STEVE HAYWARD

A huge field fire near Ipswich in 2019 Picture: STEVE HAYWARD - Credit: Archant

Hugely costly farm blazes raged across the eastern region in 2018 as the long, dry summer led to tinder-dry conditions, according to claims figures.

A field fire in Lower Blakenham in 2018 Picture: SFRS

A field fire in Lower Blakenham in 2018 Picture: SFRS - Credit: SFRS

Farm insurer NFU Mutual said its farm fire claims totalled £46.4m last year - a 27.5% rise from 2017.

But worst hit by far was the East of England, which saw a bumper 225% rise from 2017, with claims soaring from £3.4m to £11.1m

Electrical faults were the most common cause, accounting for 37% of claims, but 2018's prolonged, dry summer and early harvest also caused devastation in the countryside.

MORE - NFU leader hits out at 'imbalanced' reporting discouraging people from eating red meatNFU Mutual said the steep rise in blazes on farms in the East of England was largely driven by the dry summer, with crop fires proving a particular threat. July costs alone saw an increase of more than 350% compared to the same period the previous year.

A field fire in Lower Blakenham in 2018, which was an exceptionally bad year for farm blazes in the

A field fire in Lower Blakenham in 2018, which was an exceptionally bad year for farm blazes in the East of England Picture: SFRS - Credit: SFRS

Scotland was the second worst-affected area (£7.6m), followed by the South West (£7.2m).

Farmers have been urged to check their fire prevention methods and evacuation procedures as a fuller picture of the scale of the devastation emerged.

NFU Mutual rural insurance specialist Rebecca Davidson said: "Fire remains one of the greatest risks to the lives and property of farmers.

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"Our latest figures serve as a crucial reminder to be alert to the danger and have plans prepared and shared with family members and staff. It is possible to manage the risks by taking all possible steps to prevent fires breaking out, and to have clear plans in place to evacuate people and livestock safely in the event of a fire."

Scenes from a field fire near Bury St Edmunds Picture: SUFFOLK FIRE & RESCUE

Scenes from a field fire near Bury St Edmunds Picture: SUFFOLK FIRE & RESCUE - Credit: SUFFOLK FIRE & RESCUE

2018 was the driest summer since 2003 and hottest since 2006, according to Met Office figures, leaving UK farms particularly vulnerable to fires involving tinder dry crops and overheating combines and farm machinery.

The second most common cause of fire (23%) was spread from elsewhere - such as barn or homestead, followed by arson (20%).

NFU Mutual Risk Management Services boss Ian Jewitt said: "Electrical faults are the biggest cause of farm fires and we'd advise farmers to schedule regular safety checks of electrical equipment to help minimise that risk. Consider fencing off straw stacks and farm buildings to discourage arsonists and make it harder for fires to spread by keeping hay and straw at least 10 meters away from farm buildings."