‘Hellish wildfires will burn more landscape’ UK urged to prepare for ‘uncertain risks’

Kent: Wildfire spreads across field in Swanley

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Professor Rowena Hill, Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council Academic Collaboration, Evaluation and Research Group, said Britain must be prepared for more deadly wildfires as the nation continues to scorch in hot weather. Professor Rowena, ESRC Policy Fellow on Climate Change to the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and psychology lecturer at Nottingham Trent University, said climate changes would bring more “sustained dry spells” which would increase the risk of wildfires erupting.

She urged people to change their behaviours to “reduce the risk of causing fires outside” after the Met Office issued the top level on the Fire Severity Index to much of southern England, and as far west as Abergavenny in Wales, amid the growing risk of fires due to the scorching heatwave.

A number of wildfires have broken out across the UK this summer, triggered by heatwaves that have baked the nation and brought record temperatures.

Professor Rowena told Express.co.uk: “The drier weather bringing increased average temperatures over a longer period without rain means that our landscapes are more susceptible to ignition as the moisture levels are lower.

“Then with these spikes in hotter days brings the risk of that dry landscape igniting.


“As our climate changes and we have longer, drier, hotter spells, so our number of wildfires is likely to increase. With this, we have to change our behaviours to reduce the risks of causing fires outside.

“We saw in 2019 that a lot of our moorland could burn, the recent extreme heatwaves saw gardens and hedges and grassland on fire.

“So as the changes to our climate bring more sustained dry spells, so does the risk of more of our landscape being at risk from fire.”

Professor Rowena said people living in the UK would need to get used to living with a “greater level of uncertainty and changing risks within our environment”.

She added: “Something that human behaviour is not very readily amiable to. We prefer when things are more predictable, that isn’t to say we do not like variety, but it’s a point about tolerances- we tend to like our life experiences to be within our chosen bounds of unpredictability.

“The recent years of changes have disrupted that and we are slowly learning to live with continued uncertainty.

“Something we will need to accept and get skilled at as our climate changes and brings extremes or combinations of unpredictable weather.”

Professor Rowena said the UK’s fire service were “well trained” and had the “expertise and equipment” to tackle the growing number of wildfires but she said when there are “multiple fires in multiple places” resources become “stretched”.

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She added: “Some services with recent continued experiences of these types of fires have invested in specialist equipment designed for wildfires, however this spends resource on specialist equipment and that money cannot therefore be spent on other specialist equipment for other types of activities we expect them to attend and resolve for our society.

“Such as other types of fires – such as high rise – or other risks we expect them to attend such as flood rescue- also an impact from our changing climate and something we experience in the UK each spring.

“So whilst they are prepared for an increased risk, frequency and occurrence of wildfires today, they need to continue to develop their planning and preparedness to keep pace with the increased risk in the coming years

“And this is in the context of the need to continue to keep pace with the demands of other impacts that our changing climate brings – such as flooding – such as coastal and inland-, strong winds and risks associated with new technologies to mitigate or reduce impacts on the climate.”

It comes as the driest first seven months of the year in decades and hot spells have left parts of the UK facing looming drought, prompting hosepipe bans and warnings about the impact on agriculture, rivers and wildlife.

The latest analysis from the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UKCEH) has warned that low or even exceptionally low river flows and groundwater levels are likely to continue for the next three months in southern England and Wales.

Professor Rowena said people could install apps such as What Three Words when they are out in green and blue spaces in the countryside or on water so they are able to let call handlers and control staff know the exact location of any risks or incidents.

Speaking about what people can do to alleviate the risks of fires, she added: “Resisting the temptation to visit natural water sources to swim during heatwaves is an example of behaviours that occur more frequently because of the warmer weather.

“Staying out of unsupervised bodies of water is also proactive safety behaviour.

“If we all make sure we are not starting fires in the first place, that is the greatest way we can stay safe.

“By not discarding cigarettes, not having barbecues in areas we are advised not to, not setting off fireworks or lighting candle lanterns in areas at risk, making sure we follow safety advice we are given about what the risks are and how we can mitigate those risks.”

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