Spreading like wildfire


They are dangerous, some times uncontrollable and spread very easily – wild fires pose a very real threat to landowners.

With nearly 100 wild fires declared in the UK already in 2019, Steven Corfield, our Principal Development Partner for Agricultural Business, looks at where farmers and landowners stand if a fire spreads from their property to neighboring land and property:

In the UK, if a landowner negligently allows a fire to be caused or to develop further so as to spread onto neighboring land and property, that landowner may be subject to a claim for compensation.  

The basis of this law stems from an 1865 case known as Rylands v Fletcher. This case looked at the foreseeable consequences of a landowner’s failure to act prudently regarding the risk of bringing on to his land or allow on his land something which may escape and cause damage to the property of adjoining or neighbouring owners.

More recently, in 2013, there was a case that specifically dealt with the spread of fire. This related to a tyre fitting business where a tyre stack was set on fire by an electric wiring fault. The fire spread to the adjoining premises and destroyed both buildings. 

In this case the judge held that the stack of tyres were not exceptionally dangerous. It was the fire that had escaped rather than the tyres and as the landowner had not been negligent with the electricity supply there was no liability. 

The judge commented that establishing negligence in such a case meant that a successful claim is likely to be rare. However, if negligence can be substantiated by firm evidence a case may succeed.

One case not brought to trial involved a farmer setting fire to a manure heap by accident and believing that the fire had been put out successfully, he left it and went home. 

But it was slowly smoldering and the next day, unknown to the farmer, it burned out of control and sent thick smoke across a main public highway. A road accident occurred and the farmer in this case settled the negligence claim.

Appropriate insurance cover is essential for landowners. The insurers require landowners to comply with maintenance and safety procedures to minimise the risks that may cause fire or encourage the spread of fire. If there is a non-compliance the insurance cover may be rendered ineffective. Landowners need to keep a close check on their insurance policies if they are likely to be at risk.

Steven specialises in providing advice to farming and estate clients in respect of freehold and leasehold matters, tenancies, partnership agreements, company matters, mineral rights, sporting rights, telecommunications and renewables and all matters associated with rural businesses including statutory legislation and the Environment Agency. Steven sits on both the Shropshire and National and Parliamentary Committees of the Country Land & Business Association (CLA). He can be contacted on the details below.

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