Fire attack: Farmer saves home by digging trench

Andrew Stoddart and the straw bale blaze that threatened his farm. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Andrew Stoddart and the straw bale blaze that threatened his farm. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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A FARMER rescued his house and crops from a fireraising attack by digging a trench around 150 flaming straw bales.

Firefighters battled for ten hours to contain the blaze after fire bugs set light to bales worth £3000 at Coulston Mains Farm, Haddington.

The fire threatened to lay waste to Andrew Stoddart’s fields of crops and could even have spread to the family home.

As the blaze raged, the farmer realised emergency services would arrive too late to protect his harvest and used a tractor to dig a protective trench several feet deep around the fire.

“It was sheer luck that we’d still had the tractor sitting out from the night before,”said Mr Stoddart.

“We had a fresh crop immediately downwind of the fire, and our house was just beyond that.

“I knew I had to do something, because it had gotten completely out of control. We were just a few minutes away from having nothing to our names.”

Police have launched an investigation into the fireraising attack and called for witnesses to come foward.

The blaze, which was started at 10am on Monday morning, saw fire crews scrambled from Haddington, Musselburgh and East Linton to fight the flames.

Mr Stoddart said the 150 bales of straw had already been sold and were waiting to be collected.

“If I had been somewhere else on the farm, if I hadn’t seen it, someone could have been seriously hurt,” he said.

“It certainly didn’t catch fire on its own – and that’s a pretty frightening thought for us.”

The Stoddart family has been raising livestock and mixed crops at the 900-acre Coulston Mains Farm for more two decades.

Deliberate fireraising attacks on straw bales are not uncommon during the summer months in rural East Lothian but Mr Stoddart said the deliberate blaze could have destroyed his livelihood.

Meanwhile, Just hours after the Haddington blaze, crews tackled another fire ten miles away in Wallyford.

It was reported at around 5pm on Monday – setting 50 square metres alight and taking fire crews from New Craighall and Tranent nearly two hours to put out.

Police said they did not believe the two incidents to be directly connected, however, Mr Stoddart has warned fellow farmers in the area to remain vigilant, saying: “This happens far too often.”

Inspector Alan Hogarth, who is based at Haddington, added: “Anyone who saw anything suspicious in or around Coulston Farm on Monday morning or who has any information is urged to contact Police Scotland.”