A Cornish family is facing the future with confidence, two years after their farm suffered a major fire.
Michael and Rachel Carbis run Trelagossick Farm, on the Roseland Peninsula, with their son Andrew. Today, the farm is home to a 180-strong milking herd and the second phase of their new 240-foot livestock shed is nearing completion. As well as providing a dry and warm home for cattle over the winter months, it will be the venue for Michael and Rachel’s daughter Hannah’s wedding next summer. And while looking after their cattle and managing a busy season hosting guests at their self-catering holiday lets, the family has also started offering farm experiences on Airbnb.
It seems difficult to imagine this thriving 250-acre dairy and beef farm suffered a fire just over two years ago. Michael, who has lived at the farm all his life, still bears some of the physical scars, having suffered burns to his face and hands trying to battle the blaze.
29th August 2016 was a hot, dry Bank Holiday Monday and a date the Carbis family will not forget. Reflecting on events that took place on what began as a normal summer’s day at Trelagossick Farm, Rachel says, “We’d just had lunch when I heard an explosion. Then Michael came running into the house, shouting for me to ring the fire brigade.”
Rachel also rang Andrew, who had just left for a day out but was thankfully only a couple of miles down the road. Seeing the smoke, neighbours also started turning up to help.
The fire was in a flat-roofed timber-clad shed, which was filled with the winter feed. For Michael and Rachel though, the first priority was to evacuate around 20 baby calves from the neighbouring shed. Michael recalls, “They didn’t know where to go and kept running back in or coming to us. They’re as silly as children so it wasn’t easy to get them safely where we needed them to be.”
While the family lost 350 bales of straw and a valuable forage wagon, as well as their storage shed, they managed to save all of their livestock. Michael says, “We got them out in the nick of time. Farmers get very attached to our livestock and I couldn’t have lived with losing any of them.”
While the fire service managed to contain the fire, they could not access enough water to put it out. “They worked through the night, wetting it down,” Andrew says. “We were still carrying ash to the fields the next day and dousing it down but it kept sparking again because it was so hot. We’re really grateful to our neighbours who helped us so much on the day and provided back up afterwards.”
The day after the fire, a representative from their insurance company, Cornish Mutual, was on site. Joan Ball, insurance advisor in Cornish Mutual’s Field Force team says, “In a situation like this, it’s important that we get a really good grasp of our Member’s priorities. While we knew they would need to claim for the loss of the building and machinery, there were more urgent priorities such as getting enough winter feed in for their animals. We made sure we helped them with funds for that in the first instance and then dealt with the claim for the rest of the damage. We wanted to help them get back on their feet as quickly as possible.”
Michael says, “We needed Cornish Mutual to act fast so we had enough food for our livestock and they really stepped up. It was all dealt with very quickly. We’ve always been insured with Cornish Mutual – as far as I know my Dad never had insurance from anyone else – and thankfully they were there when we needed them.”
Once the fire was under control, the family faced a number of challenges in addition to replacing their winter feed. Michael was taken to the Royal Cornwall Hospital at Treliske for emergency treatment, having sustained burns to his face and arms when he moved a scorching straw bale to prevent the fire from spreading. With both holiday lets having been evacuated by the fire, the family had to rehouse their guests. Damage to many other buildings also meant there were a number of repairs to organise to guttering and doors. The family remembers the house and entire farm smelling of smoke for weeks.
The most pressing concern, however, was that damage to electrical cabling meant they had lost their water supply. Though they had some water in their storage tanks, they needed much more to service their milking herd.
The family will never know the cause of the fire, though they believe it was possibly a spark from a machine or spontaneous combustion. Michael says that the hot, dry conditions meant the fire spread very quickly. “The breeze was blowing in the wrong direction,” he explains, “and the grass was tinder dry so it burnt the outside of all the buildings around the shed.”
Having experienced the loss of all their winter stock, the family now stores their feed in a number of different buildings across the farm to reduce the risk. Rachel says, “If we smell a bonfire we always go round the yard looking, to check everything. It does make you more nervous.”
With Andrew graduating from Exeter University in 2009 with a civil engineering degree, and becoming a partner in the farm business, the family felt able to invest in the future by modernising the milking parlour and using their insurance claim to build better winter sheds for their animals. They also have another reason to feel optimistic about the future; Michael and Rachel recently became grandparents. Andrew and wife Sarah’s four-month-old daughter, Lerryn, spends much of her time on the farm. Andrew says, “We’re looking forward to working with Cornish Mutual for the next 25 to 30 years. They looked after us when we needed help and we’d like to stay loyal to them.”