GALLERY: Police launch investigation into straw fires

MORE than 60,000 tonnes of straw went up in flames in two East Cambridgeshire villages in the early hours of Wednesday, in what police believe may have been an arson attack.

Fire-crews from Sutton and Ely were called at 11.30pm on Tuesday night to fires at sites along the A142 between Mepal and Witcham Toll and fire-fighters remained at the scene throughout the night.

According to the fire service, there were 32,000 bales of straw on fire at Witcham Toll, amounting to about 16,000 tonnes, while there were 100,000 bales on fire at Mepal, amounting to about 50,000 tonnes.

The stacks continued to burn overnight into Thursday and are expected to burn for several days to come, with smoke and flames visible from up to 30 miles away.

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service said that straw belonged to the Elean Power Station at Sutton, where it was to be burned to produce energy.

Residents in Mepal, Witcham, Sutton and Witchford were advised to keep their doors and windows closed as smoke from up to eight straw stack fires continues to billow into the air.

Pc Robin Smith, of the Rural Community Action Team, said: “I would urge anyone with any information about these fires to contact police. Stack fires can take up a huge amount of the fire service’s time and cost the victim thousands of pounds, as well as pushing up the cost of straw.

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“We are working closely with the fire service to combat this type of offending and extra patrols will be put on in the area.

Arson liaison officer for the Cambridgeshire Arson Partnership, Martin Boome said: “The consequences of this fire are huge. People don’t realise the resources the fire service have to put in place to tackle fires such as these, which are likely to burn for several days.

“In this situation you have a large amount of straw which is on fire, in very close proximity to other stacks which have been unaffected. Firefighters must work day and night to ensure that the fire does not spread and this has a cost implication on the service and prevents those crews from attending other emergency incidents in the area.

“Fires like this also have a massive effect on the victim and the local community.”

Anyone with any information should call police on 101 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555111.