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Public urged to take extra care as temperatures soar

Date: 19th May, 2020

A forest fire in Dorset has now been declared a major incident – highlighting the importance for people to take extra care during the hot weather spell the country is likely to see over the coming days.

The Wareham Forest fire – which started yesterday (18th May) – covers more than 180 hectares, with a fire front over three kilometres long.

The National Fire Chiefs Council is urging the public to be vigilant in the coming days if taking daily exercise in areas of woodland, heath or forestry; especially at a time when fire services are already under pressures due to their response to COVID-19.

At the height of the response, Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service (DWFRS) had 25 fire appliances in attendance, additional 4×4 vehicles and around 150 firefighters at the scene. In addition, specialist high volume pumps (to draw water from a river), a high volume pump tactical adviser and three wildfire tactical advisers are also in attendance. Some of these are being provided by NFCC’s National Resilience function, which means the right support can be mobilised from across the country to assist with a wide range of incidents, including wildfires.

Roy Wilsher, Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council, 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.”

DWFRS Chief Fire Officer, Ben Ansell said: “Due to the tremendous efforts and hard work of my firefighters and those from neighbouring services over the last 24 hours, we believe the fire in Wareham Forest is now under control. Not only do large incidents like this do untold damage to wildlife and the environment, they are also a large drain on resources during a particularly difficult time. Although we do not yet know how this fire started, I would urge people across the country to listen to the advice of their fire and rescue service when visiting areas of natural beauty during the Coronavirus pandemic.”
NFCC’s National Resilience function is on standby to provide further assistance if the situation changes and additional resources are required. Surrounding FRSs are helping cover business as usual calls.

Other teams at the scene include the Forestry Commission, which is providing specialist equipment and knowledge and Natural England which is assisting and advising on measures to protect flora and fauna. National Grid is also at the incident as the fire was very close to – and beneath 400kV electrical power lines.

The response to the Wareham Forest fire has included the isolation of high voltage power lines to protect infrastructure and firefighters have been creating fire breaks to reduce the fire spread. Nearby major roads have also been closed. It is likely the incident will continue for another several days. The cause of the fire is currently under investigation.

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