Fire too fast for farmer

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COMBUSTION: A hay shed burned to the ground in Mid Canterbury’s biggest blaze in seven years on Friday.
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A Tinwald farmer sped in his ute to where he saw smoke coming from a hay shed, but it was too late to save the building.

The shed burned to the ground, alongside a shelter belt and 2ha of crop. The blaze was the biggest in Mid Canterbury for seven years, involving about 20 appliances from throughout Mid Canterbury and further afield.

The crop farmer, who did not want to be named, said he was grateful to the people and firefighters who attended the blaze, which he thinks may have started from spontaneous combustion in a straw bale in the shed.

The farm was insured for the damage, which would be hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The farmer said he was harvesting on Friday last week, when at about 5.30pm, he was unloading a truck in the farm’s yard and noticed a small amount of smoke coming from the hay shed, about 300m away.

‘‘I hopped in the ute with the fire extinguisher and just hooned it over there,’’ he said. It would have been less than two minutes from spotting the smoke to arriving at the shed.

‘‘By the time I got there it was well alit, there was no coming back, it was just gone. It just erupted, it just went for it. Because the flames were so big, it just jumped into the hedge line.’’

Firefighters responded to 111 calls from the farmer and a worker on the farm, located on Frasers Rd.

About 20 fire trucks and tankers from throughout Mid Canterbury, as well as Timaru, Geraldine and Temuka attended. They were on site for more than 24 hours as firefighters fought to bring the blaze under control and dampen down hot spots.

‘‘We are very grateful for the community we are in, to have such good guys around us,’’ the farmer said of both the firefighters and others who helped out.

Tarbotton Land and Civil, also on Frasers Rd, had ‘‘dropped everything’’ to race to the scene. Personnel from the business used the equipment they had on hand, as well as bringing in its diggers they had at other sites around the district.

The fire burned several hundred metres of the hedge and about 650 large straw bales.

Prime responding brigade was the Ashburton Volunteer Fire Brigade.

Chief Alan Burgess said about 20 fire trucks and tankers attended, making it the biggest fire in terms of resources responding since the 2017 Seales Winslow animal feed plant fire.

The cause was unknown, but a likely cause was spontaneous combustion, caused by moisture content, in a hay bale.

Burgess said the risk of further fires in Mid Canterbury remained ‘‘extremely high’’ as dry weather was forecast to continue.