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Spate of wildfires raise concerns

1 June 2020

A SERIES of large wildfires were reported across the UK over the weekend, with firefighters having warned that ‘scarce rainfall and dry vegetation’ would provide ‘all of the ingredients’ for spread.

Express and Star reported on the fires that took hold at ‘beauty spots’ across the UK over the weekend ‘as temperatures soared’, with 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) as well as Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS).

The news outlet stated that 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. SFRS said the Thursley Common fire at a nature reserve had reached 20 hectares and required evacuating residents from 14 homes nearby, as well closing a four mile stretch of road for public safety.

Surrey Police added at the time that ‘smoke from the fire is visible for a number of miles and we ask residents to keep their doors and windows closed to prevent breathing difficulties. Drivers in the area, including those using the A3, need to be aware that the smoke may affect visibility locally’. SFRS meanwhile urged the public to leave cars behind if parking near the common, and advised local residents to close windows as smoke ‘can be seen for miles’.

It added in a statement online that ‘members of the public at Thursley Common are to evacuate and follow instruction from police officers on scene. If you have left your vehicle in the car parks please ring 101 to inform police that you are safe and provide them with your car registration number’. Onlookers recounted their concerns and anger at the fire, with one noting that ‘fires are quite common there in the summer and I don’t think people take enough care when it’s dry like this’.

Another had been able to see the fire from 11 miles away, with one onlooker tweeting that ‘once again, idiots not understanding how tinder dry everything is’, while Express and Star pointed out that a sign at the common warns of the high risk of fire, and ‘urges people not to light flames and to dispose of rubbish carefully’.

The fire on Skye meanwhile was at Kyleakin Woods, with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service having warned that the weather ‘could see a rise in incidents’. Its area commander Bruce Farquharson had said: ‘We have had very little rain over the past two months, and a large volume of dead, bone-dry vegetation remains left over from last year – which essentially acts as a fuel for fire.

‘As a result, there are currently vast areas of countryside all over the country that is tinder dry and vulnerable, and has all of the ingredients for fire to take hold and spread.’

The fire in Lancashire saw LFRS and GMFRS crews with eight appliances tackle the ‘huge blaze’ on moorland near Darwen, with LFRS stating that the ‘fire front is covering an area approximately 300 yards by 200 yards’, and that firefighters ‘are currently using aqua packs and beaters to bring the fire under control’.

Last month, the National Fire Chiefs Council (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 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 this is a time ‘when fire services are already under pressures due to their response to COVID-19’. At the peak of the fire response, Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service (DWFRS) had 25 fire appliances attending, alongside 4x4 vehicles and 150 firefighters.

Roy Wilsher, NFCC chair, commented: ‘These large-scale fires are a stark reminder as to just how quickly these types of fires take hold. By their very nature, this type of fire is resource intensive. While we do not know the cause of this fire yet, it is vital the public are listening to the advice of their fire and rescue service; avoid barbecues in these areas, to take all rubbish home with them and to act responsibly.

‘People also need to ensure they are following current government advice on COVID in relation to movement and social distancing. The summer of 2018 saw the highest number of grass fires in recent history and we have also seen the season for wildfires change, with them starting much earlier in the year.

‘We’ve had plenty of warm, dry weather so far this year and so we are also urging landowners not to carry out controlled burns due to the unprecedented pressure fire services are under due to the COVID-19 response.’

Spate of wildfires raise concerns