Farmer speaks of shock after massive fire

A smouldering pile of straw at Hillhead Farm, Shilbottle.
A smouldering pile of straw at Hillhead Farm, Shilbottle.

A farmer has told of his devastation after a massive fire erupted at his Shilbottle farm last night, leaving a huge clean-up operation and a hefty loss amounting to more than £175,000.

Gordon Smith admits he is still in shock after 5,000 bales of straw went up in flames at Hillhead Farm, at around 9pm yesterday.

His partner, Emma Fairbairn, has described the incident as scary.

Police have confirmed that four local youths have been arrested on suspicion of arson.

Speaking at the farm today, Gordon said: “It is devastating. It really has caused a lot of hassle and there are knock-on effects all over. I am just shocked at what has happened.”

Reflecting on the arrests that have been made, he added: “I have never understood people that do this. What do you achieve from this? You hear about these things happening in other places, but you just don’t expect this sort of thing to happen to you.

“We have had problems of youths climbing on the bales and we have had to chase them off. But they have never done any damage in the past, but for some reason, who ever is responsible has decided to go a step further this time.”

Around 300 cattle had to be moved and put into alternative shelters. Temporary pens were being constructed this morning in another shed to rehouse the affected livestock.

Staff at the farm have been working tirelessly to move the animals and help with the clear-up operation, while members of the community have also offered a helping hand.

Gordon said: “It has been amazing to see the local farming community pull together, so thanks to everyone who came out to help last night, we appreciate all of their efforts. The cattle were all safe too.”

The fire was reported at 9.10 last night and appliances from Alnwick, Amble, Rothbury, Pegswood and West Hartford all attended to deal with the inferno.

Two appliances were still on the scene this afternoon, protecting the surrounding buildings while the flames died down. The Gazette has been told that the piles of straw could continue to burn into the night, possibly into tomorrow.

The fire investigator has visited the scene.

Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service Incident Commander Danny Stephenson described the blaze as being severe and substantial.

Last night, the glow from the flames could be seen as far as Ashington as well as on the coast at Alnmouth, Boulmer and Amble.

The same farm was hit by a blaze almost 11 years ago when flames ripped through buildings, including a cattle shed. High winds fanned the straw fire on that occasion in November 2003 and around 1,000 cattle had to be rescued.