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500 more UK wildfires this year than all of 2021

2023-06-02 10:57:43 source:CNN (Cable News Network) author:Press center5 click:816order

• There have been 745 wildfires in the UK so far this year - up from 247 in the whole of 2021

• Fire chief Mark Hardingham told the BBC there had been 150 large fires in the last week alone

• A wildfire is classified as being large enough to cover an area the size of at least two-and-a-half football pitches

• Fire chiefs are urging people not to use disposable barbeques in open spaces

There have been almost 500 more wildfires this year than the whole of 2021, a fire chief has said.

Mark Hardingham, chairman of the National Fire Chiefs Council, said hot and dry weather had combined to create the perfect conditions for wildfires.

So far in 2022, he said there had been 745 wildfires in the UK - more than a 200% increase from the total figure of 247 for all of last year.

Mr Hardingham told BBC Radio 4 on Sunday that hundreds of grass and woodland fires happen in the UK every day.

But he said there had been larger and more dangerous blazes in 2022, including 150 in the past week alone.

Firefighters have been responding to these incidents "day in, day out" before the record-breaking temperatures of 40C (104F) in July, he said.

"They are physically exhausting and demanding incidents to deal with.

"Not only are you turning up as a firefighter in extreme, high temperatures, [but you're] wearing your firefighter clothing, you're chasing these fires across fields, you're dragging heavy equipment, you're keeping an eye out all the time for your own welfare and safety and those of your colleagues.

"Once you've dealt with that fire, more often than not you're picking up another call to go to the next fire."

A major incident, declared at the site of a heath fire in Dorset, is one of several large blazes to have broken out across the UK in the past few days.

Evidence of a campfire and a disposable barbecue were found amid the ashes at Studland Heath.

Though wildfires can sometimes occur naturally, ignited by heat from the sun or a lightning strike, most are caused by human carelessness.

A disposable barbecue in an open, public space might not normally be enough on its own to start a blaze.

But drought conditions which have been officially declared across much of England, as well as hot temperatures over the course of July and August, have created conditions that are "perfect at the moment for wildfires", Mr Hardingham said.

"The temperatures, the fact we've had no appreciable rainfall for quite some time, the wind speed of 10-12 mph so fires once they start spread very quickly, and humidity is very low," he added.

A major report by the UN has warned that severe weather patterns could fuel wildfires, and heatwaves and droughts will become more common if action is not taken soon.

Richard la Torre, national officer at the Fire Brigades Union, said that fire services were increasingly under strain and needed more funding to tackle blazes on this scale in the years ahead.

"Extreme weather and the climate crisis is a workplace issue for firefighters," he said.

"If it carries on the way it is, I do not think we can have the expectation that fire services can deal with it."

A Home Office spokesperson said core spending power for standalone fire and rescue authorities had been increased from £1.2bn in 2016-17 to £1.3bn in 2022-23.

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