UK heatwave leaving East Anglian communities feeling vulnerable to increased wildfire risk

  • ITV News Anglia's Rob Setchell reports on the wildfires that have swept the region

People living in rural communities ravaged by wildfires say they feel like "sitting ducks" as the dry weather continues, leaving the fields and forests around them tinder-dry.

Fire services have been battling dozens of blazes since last week's record-breaking heatwave, with warnings that climate change could make such hot spells and the dangerous conditions a regular occurrence.

People living in villages and hamlets across Norfolk and Suffolk have told ITV News Anglia the spread of wildfires has left them feeling helpless and vulnerable, but underlined their gratitude to the crews fighting against the blazes.

At Ashill and Ashmanhaugh in Norfolk, more than a dozen homes were gutted by fires which started in fields and spread to nearby properties, while at Knodishall in Suffolk on Sunday the work of crews stopped wildfire flames from reaching people's houses.

Norfolk petting farm Wroxham Barns has been welcoming visitors for 40 years and until last week had never had to evacuate because of the fire risk - it has now done it twice.

Ben Marshall, general manager of Wroxham Barns. Credit: ITV News Anglia

General manager Ben Marshall said the attraction was making changes to minimise the risk - such as making its campsite fire-free - and would be going further next year.

"You sort of feel like a sitting duck. We can't do anything," he said.

"The ground is really dry. We're surrounded by agricultural land, which is lovely usually but it makes you feel quite vulnerable."

He added: "The risk is so high. We've got animals, we've got bales, we feel very vulnerable. When the summer's over we'll definitely have a think about what we can do next year to protect ourselves even more."

In Suffolk, homeowner Caroline Smith watched as fire crews battled a huge field fire approaching her house - and became tearful as she thanked them for their bravery in beating back the flames.

Fire crews were still at Knodishall on Monday, dampening down the previous night's fire. Credit: ITV News Anglia

"I'm just so relieved and so thankful to the police and to the fire service who were just amazing, because they saved our homes.

"I don't know how they did it against such odds. They were fantastic and I can't express my thanks enough."

At Ashmanaugh, homeowner Keith Gant said he had been overwhelmed by the reaction from the community, which has rallied round after his house and all his possessions were lost to the flames last week.

Mr Gant - whose only remaining image of his late wife Olwen is the tattoo on his arm - has been returning daily to feed the fish in the pond which now sits in the blackened ruins of his home.

"Sixty years hard work and there's only me now. I've got nothing," he said. "It's overwhelming... Everyone you speak to wants to help. I'm getting better. People are very kind, aren't they? I've got plenty of clothes now - more clothes than I've ever had!"

Wil Tel of Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service admitted crews were being stretched, but said the service was pulling together.

"The last few days have challenged us in terms of resources and at times we're running low on what we've got but I think the team effort runs across all fire services, where we will support each other," he said.

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