MORE than 200 tonnes of hay went up in flames during a huge hay bale fire just outside of Stow.
The busy main A436 road through the Cotswolds was closed during the morning rush hour after the blaze took hold at Mount Pleasant Farm at about 1am on Monday morning.
Police are not treating the fire as suspicious. But straw and hay merchant Thomas Gaden, who owns the farm, says he is convinced the blaze was started deliberately.
Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service rushed to the farm on the A436 near the Oddington junction after several calls from the people who saw smoke or flames.
Two crews from Stow fire station attended the blaze, which destroyed about 450 hay bales and set alight nearby hedgerows.
Firefighters left the scene more than eight hours later once a crew from Moreton had finished damping down.
Police put road closures in place between the Unicorn crossroads and the A436 / A44 Oddington to Moreton crossroads at 4am due to the volume of smoke blowingacross the main road.
The roads were later re-opened with temporary traffic lights in place just before 1pm.
Mr Gaden said the fire was “a big blow.”
“It was big stack of hay, we had just harvested it,” he said. “We just had the police knock the door at 2am. It’s still burning now. It will probably burn for three or four days now.”
Gloucestershire Police confirmed the fire was not being treated as suspicious.
But Mr Gaden said: “At the end of the day things just don’t catch fire. Somebody has got to have lit it.”
Residents spoke of their shock at the scale of the fire on the Stow Facebook page.
Sandra Kanfer Clarke said: “We saw the fire this morning from the bedroom window and were a bit shocked at the size of it.”
And Laura Gustine said: “Nasty business, road closures are always a pain but with hedges gone up as well the situation must have been really dangerous.”
Geoff Sallis, Gloucestershire's deputy chief fire officer, said: “Most f a r m e r s and people storing hay and similar items are well aware of how to do it safely.
“The general guidelines include reducing naked flames in the area and ensuring other ignition sources are at a safe distance and under control. It is about reducing the opportunities for the fire to start.
“Due to the highly flammable nature of the material, sometimesin current weather conditions the fire can start without any external ignition.
“When there is a large amount of hay involved we, at times, take the operational decision to allow the fire to burn out while ensuring it doesn’t spread and we are protecting any nearby buildings.”