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NFCC urges ‘extreme caution’ over wildfires

2 June 2020

THE NATIONAL Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) told the public to exercise ‘extreme caution’ after a ‘surge’ in wildfires over the last week.

Yesterday, it was reported that a series of large wildfires had taken place over the last weekend ‘as temperatures soared’, including fires tackled at Thursley Common in Surrey by Surrey Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS); Kyleakin Woods on the Isle of Skye by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service; and a moor fire in Darwen, Lancashire by crews from Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service (LFRS) and Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS).

Firefighters had warned that ‘scarce rainfall and dry vegetation’ would provide ‘all of the ingredients’ for wildfires to spread as temperatures reached highs of 28C, ‘much higher than the average for the time of the year’ according to the Met Office. Last month, the NFCC urged the public to ‘take extra care as temperatures soar’ during the COVID-19 pandemic, after a major incident forest fire in Dorset.

It warned at the time that the major incident in Wareham Forest ‘highlight[ed] the importance for people to take extra care during the hot weather spell the country is likely to see’, with the fire covering over 180 hectares, and featuring a fire front over three kilometres long. The NFCC urged the public ‘to be vigilant […] if taking daily exercise in areas of woodland, heath or forestry’, particularly as ‘fire services are already under pressures due to their response to COVID-19’.

The NFCC has now reiterated this earlier warning, and ‘issued extreme caution’ to the public after the surge in fires. It pointed out that ‘more than a dozen fires’ had been tackled in the last week at ‘beauty spots around the UK’, with ‘many […] believed to have been caused by BBQs and campfires’. All of these have resulted in ‘sustained and prolonged’ operations by the UK fire and rescue services (FRSs) as well as other partner agencies.

It also noted that ‘with very little rain in the month of May and higher than average temperatures’, certain areas across the UK ‘are very dry, providing the perfect condition for fires to take hold and spread’. Citing the recent aforementioned fires, the NFCC added that these have ‘required local, regional and national response across a number of days, involving huge resources’.

NFCC’s National Resilience function has in turn ‘coordinated and deployed assets to where they are needed’, with FRSs ‘responding jointly with partners’ such as United Utilities, local police forces and mountain rescue. The council concluded by stating that ‘limiting the risk’ of such fires’ will ‘ensure [FRS] crews can continue to be ready, willing and able to spend time supporting their communities and other emergency services during’ the COVID-19 pandemic.

Paul Hedley, NFCC wildfire lead, commented: ‘These large-scale fires are a stark reminder as to just how quickly they can take hold. By their very nature, this type of fire is resource intensive and incredibly challenging for Fire and Rescue Services and the impact is huge, not just to the local environment and wildlife but also to the lives of those who live nearby.

‘The message is really clear. If you are taking daily exercise in areas of woodland, heath or forestry over the coming weeks, use extreme caution and don't use portable barbecues or light fires of any kind, because the effects could be catastrophic.’

NFCC urges ‘extreme caution’ over wildfires