Published: 12:00, 22 August 2014
A man has been arrested on suspicion of arson after a massive blaze destroyed three barns on Sheppey early today - and two similar fires in just weeks.
The 36-year-old was held by officers in Minster this morning following the three attacks on farms across the island and remains in police custody.
Crews battled the latest fire involving three buildings in Elm Lane, Minster, since 1.20am - with a huge plume of smoke visible for miles and people urged to stay indoors.
In what was described as a "pre-planned operation", officers executed a warrant in Queens Road this morning.
Detectives are investigating farm fires in Lower Road, Minster, on August 1 and Queenborough Road, Queenborough, on August 17.
Officers remain at the scene of the latest blaze that broke out in Elm Lane, Minster, at about 1.25am today. They are still investigating the cause of the latest fire.
Swale district commander Chief Inspector Tony Henley said: "I recognise how distressing these mindless and destructive fires are and I would like to reassure the residents of Sheppey, and in particular the farming community, that we are committed to catching those responsible.
"Alongside the criminal investigation my officers are speaking to the farming community and those affected and offering support and advice at this time.
"We have one person in custody today. However, we have a number of lines of enquiry ongoing and there are other people we would like to speak to in connection with these incidents.
"I would urge anybody with any information about these incidents to contact the investigating officer PC Robin Stump on 07980 683675?, quoting crime reference XY/029871/14. Alternatively, if you would prefer to remain anonymous, call Kent Crimestoppers on 0800 555111."
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Earlier, Kent Fire and Rescue Service asked nearby residents to remain in their homes, with doors and windows closed, as the smoke from the latest fire was thought to contain ammonium nitrate - a fertiliser that can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and skin.
The huge blaze destroyed three barns, with piles of rubble continuing to smoulder this afternoon.
Dramatic aerial footage revealed the scale of the damage as flames continued to glow through the fire-ravaged remains of the barns.
Billowing smoke cleared to show the collapsed buildings after the blaze caused thousands of pounds of damage.
Video: Aerial footage of the Minster barn blaze damage
Crews were this morning said to be making good progress in tackling the blaze.
Around 10 firefighters remained at the site at midday and were expected to continue damping down until later this afternoon.
The first crews quickly called for assistance at the three buildings, which cover an area around 300m by 300m.
There were then six engines - and about 50 firefighters - as well as a command support unit and Kent Police officers on the scene.
Relief crews arrived at the scene at 6am, with firefighting operations still under way.
The incident was scaled down to three fire engines at 9am and again to two at 11.30am.
Farm machinery was also being used to help break apart the blazing haystacks to help prevent the fire spreading further.
Nearby resident Rachel Hallett, who lives in Elm Lane, was woken by the blaze.
She said at first it sounded like gunfire before discovering the flames when she looked out the window.
"To start with we thought it was someone's house - it's a residential area," she said. "But my dad was on the phone to the emergency services and we were told it was a barn.
"We could hear the fire popping and banging, but apart from that it was eerily quiet - it was really weird.
"We decided not to go out as the helicopter was out searching. I felt cross and frustrated - we didn't know if anyone was hurt."
Fire chiefs issued the warning to stay indoors at 2.30am.
A spokesman said: "Smoke from the fire is thought to contain some potentially irritant substances so KFRS is asking members of the public to remain inside their homes and keep doors and windows closed as a precaution."
It is the third suspected arson attack on a barn on the Island this month.
The first broke out at Wallend Farm in Lower Road, Minster, at 2am on Friday, August 1.
Crews spent the early hours tackling the huge blaze - involving the barn and around 3,500 tonnes of baled hay.
The building was said to be worth £300,000 while the hay was worth £150,000.
Then last Sunday, another barn blaze on Sheppey was believed to have been started by arsonists.
Around 1,000 tonnes of baled hay was alight at Neats Court Farm, in Queenborough Road, Queenborough.
Firefighters worked to prevent the blaze spreading while the property owners moved farm equipment away from the scene.
Anyone with information about the first two fires is asked to phone police on 101, quoting references XY/29302/14 and XY/29294/14.
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