Soaring temperatures and drought conditions are causing fires to rip through arable fields across England, while Scotland has been put on high alert for wildfires in its parched uplands.

Burning crops have been reported across the country, with fire services struggling to cope with demand. Hertfordshire farmer David Sapsed saw 200 acres of his wheat and barley go up in smoke. The beef and crops farmer lost a third of his 600-acre harvest to the flames, which is likely to have been worth £180,000.

He said: “I don't know how it started – could have been flint, glass or a stone out of the straw chopper. The corn trailer driver spotted a tiny bit of smoke and jumped off and stamped it out. Then there was another little puff of smoke a few yards away, so he called to the combine driver to take over the fire extinguishers. They dowsed it down and thought it was all out.

“Then there was a gust of wind and five yards away there was a flare of flame like nothing I’ve seen. It was incredible how fast it went after that, there was nothing stopping it. The wind, the heat and the sun did the rest. It was raging like a bull."

The pedigree Simmental breeder from High Heath farm said: “We had about ten fire engines and 20 farmers rallied round to help bring water and cultivators. I am too old to know about things like facebook, but someone put up a note saying ‘big fire at High Heath farm’ and everyone stopped harvesting and ran to help. It was unbelievable really. I have a big thank you to say to them all and the fire service. We carted water all night long and eventually managed to get on top of it. But it was one of those days you want to forget. We only have around 100 acres left to cut now.”

Will Braithwaite, who farms at Hall Farm near Doncaster, saw one of his fields of winter wheat set ablaze as the mercury topped 42 degrees in Yorkshire. “My field has gone, it was one of the worst days I’ve had in farming,” he admitted. “All that work growing the crop destroyed. The field has burned to the ground.”

Mr Braithwaite estimates the seven acre field of first wheat would have yielded 4t/acre and delivered an income over £8400. The arable farmer went on to say: “A neighbouring farmer called me up to say the field was on fire but when we got there it was too late. 90% was destroyed. We got the discs on and went round the field to try and stop the fire spreading but it got into the 74 acre wood. It is still burning now.”

With 600 acres of crops on the farm, Mr Braithwaite is terrified fire will strike again. “We don’t know what caused it, the fire brigade suggested it started near the road but whether it was deliberate, a cigarette or a piece of broken glass, we just don’t know if it was arson or an act of god. I have the disks on the tractor and the sprayer filled up ready if we see flames again.”

The plan now is to leave the field a while then plough it in September. Mr Braithwaite had insured the crop, but premiums will probably rise in the coming years.

Within ten miles of the Braithwaite’s farm they know of five fires, one next to the village where homes have had to evacuated as the blowing wind had brought flames into people’s gardens.

One farmer who has been taking action to prevent fires is Aaron Hogsbjerg, from Clarks Farm, which grows 3500 acres of cereals and sugar beet in Suffolk and Essex.

“The last significant rain we had was at the start of June and the temperature has just kept rising since. We are staying alert to the risk of fire and have stop all verge mowing for fear of a spark. We have every trailer kitted out with a bowser with 300 litres of water with a lance. We also purchased an ex-army service truck which has 2000 litres of water with a pump and lance which we take to fields when combining. We have been running like this for the last five years to keep the fire risk down.

“We have had to use a bowser once this year on our combine when we dowsed down some smouldering, so we have to constantly be aware of the danger," said Mr Hogsbjerg.

“We haven’t been combining the last few days, it has just been too hot, we want to leave it a couple days. Everything is too dry to combine, people are cutting cereals at 8% moisture.

“When we do start we will likely cut later in the day once it has cooled down to 25 degrees. We can usually cut until 2am until it gets damp then start again at the break of dawn before it gets light. Yields have been 7.1 to 9.3t to the hectare for the winter barley. We aim for 7.5t/h and anything above 8 tons is exceptional so I am quite pleased."

Mr Hogsbjerg is cutting with a five year old Claas Lexion 750 with a 40 foot header. He hopes the moisture will be 13 to 14% for his wheat but admits it is likely to be below that when they start again. “It is likely to be in single figures but I hope not,” he admitted.

NFU England combinable crops board chair Matt Culley said: “We are experiencing an incredibly trying time this harvest. I am hearing some oil seed rape is being harvested at under 6% moisture. Growers are having to cut through the night which isn’t ideal for work forces. We are getting grain and oil seeds which are coming into the shed at 25-30 degrees Celsius. This means that buyers and merchants are charging cooling costs. We are getting calls from members who are experiencing this for the first time and getting lumped with charges of around £4.50/t to cool the crop to below 15 degrees.

“Barley growers are struggling to harvest during the day as the moisture level is too low and having to run combines into the night when temperatures are lower.

“Our regional WhatsApp groups are constantly reporting fires across the country, with three or four reports every day of destroyed crops. All through the midlands and into East Anglia are having issues. It is not just combines but balers who perhaps hit a stone and make a spark which are at risk of going on fire. Everyone has to be very careful. The fire brigade is under enormous pressure.

“The next challenge will be getting oil seed rape into the ground – there is just no moisture in the first three inches of soil so currently little point in sowing seeds. There is no decent amount of rain on the horizon for much of England.”

Eveey Hunter from JS Hunter and Sons in Hertfordshire managed to contain a fire on her farm. “We had an old bonfire which hadn’t been lit for weeks. But in this heat it started smouldering. I poured a loader grain bucket of water on it in the morning and that seemed to put it out. But over the day it started again and set fire to a field of wheat. We only lost two or three acres as we caught it in time by using cultivators to make fire breaks and had two fire engines attending. It was bad timing as my dad and husband were helping a neighbour with our water bowsers putting out their fire.

“We are not cutting at the moment, but when we do, we will be following the combine with a bowser at all times and we will keep the cultivator on a tractor at all times.

“We were cutting on Monday night. We don’t start until 4pm when it cools down enough. The yields have not been too bad with 8.5t/hectare for the wheat at 12.5% moisture. The winter barley was coming in at 11.5%. We spread the barley thinly across the shed with fans to cool it down for storage. We should get cutting soon once it cools, with about 3000 acres left to cut.”