Belfast Telegraph

Antrim TV farmer devastated as fire destroys winter feed

By Chris McCullough

A farmer says he has lost his entire winter supply of straw after a fire engulfed one of his sheds.

The alarm was raised by a worker on James and Nelson Alexander's farm near Toomebridge, Co Antrim.

James is well-known in livestock breeding circles and for his appearances on the UTV farming show Rare Breed.

He operates a large beef and sheep farm and, along with his father Nelson, also runs a successful used tractor and farm machinery sales business.

The fire broke out around 8.30pm on Sunday evening.

In the shed were hundreds of tonnes of straw that the Alexanders bought to feed their cattle and sheep through the winter.

Farm machinery, including a Manitou telescopic loader, a straw chopper and sheep handling equipment, was also destroyed.

However, James says he was lucky no livestock were killed as they had moved them from one shed to another just before the fire started. He also praised neighbours who have helped with supplies and offers of help since the fire. "We are very lucky," James said. "Our farm worker alerted us to the fire around 8.30pm. We rushed to move some cows and calves from an adjacent shed in case the heavy smoke choked them.

"We also had to quickly move tractors and trailers that were sitting near the shed in case some embers were blown onto them and they caught fire.

"Within minutes the fire had spread throughout the pile of big straw bales we were storing for the winter. We called the fire brigade who were here within 15 minutes and battled the flames for 20 hours before it was put out.

"I have to say those guys did a really good job, considering what they were up against."

James was also storing wood shavings in the shed to use as bedding material for the livestock. It, too, was burnt.

"We were very lucky the wind blew the smoke away from the cattle and the farm," James added. "Had it lingered around the yard the livestock could have been choked to death."

The farm shed sits right on the Gloverstown Road and investigations as to how the fire started are ongoing.

James continued: "The yard is monitored by CCTV.

"We can't see anything obvious from the CCTV video but the police and fire service are still investigating as to what could have caused the fire.

"Friends and neighbours were on the scene within minutes as well to help us and I want to thank them all very much.

"Even people we did not know turned up to help us.

"We have been offered some replacement straw to keep us going in the meantime, but it's just finding somewhere to put it at the moment is the problem as we have a lot of cleaning up to do," he said.

The Fire Service sent two appliances from Magherafelt Fire Station, one from Antrim Fire Station and a water tanker from Dungiven Fire Station.

A PSNI spokesman said: "Police received a report of a fire at premises on Gloverstown Road at around 10pm on Sunday, November 5. The cause of the blaze remains under investigation."

Belfast Telegraph

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