Warning issued about ‘extreme’ risk of heath and woodland fires in coming days in Dorset and Wiltshire

The risk of further devastating wildfires in heath and woodland across Dorset and Wiltshire has been assessed as extreme, which is the highest it can be.

More than a week after firefighters started tackling a blaze affecting over 220 hectares of Wareham Forest, Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service has issued a strong warning that worse could yet happen if people ignore safety warnings.

This is what Wareham Forest looks like now, 10 days after it began on the 18th of May.

Although the fire is no longer spreading, crews will be on site today (28/05) and throughout the night to continue damping down hotspots and monitoring the perimeter.

The recent dry weather, combined with more hot days and steady winds forecast, have created a ‘perfect storm’ of conditions for wildfires to take hold. Alongside this, the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions has seen an increase in people getting out into the countryside.

Wildfires can start due to a number of reasons, including:

  • Deliberate fire setting

  • Littering of items such as disposable barbecues and cigarettes

  • Campfires and bonfires either being left unattended or getting out of control

  • Sparks from machinery and vehicles

  • Andy Cole- Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service

In light of the ‘extreme’ wildfire warnings in place, the Fire and Rescue Service wants residents and visitors alike to protect local heath and woodlands by resisting having any form of barbecue or outside fire whilst enjoying the countryside.

Assistant Chief Fire Officer Byron Standen said: “We do understand that people want to enjoy the good weather while it lasts but it is vital that everyone takes sensible precautions while the ground and foliage is so dry – the destruction of Wareham Forest shows what can happen.”

We are asking people to do things a little bit differently while the risk is so high. Please do not take a barbecue or have a campfire, maybe take a picnic instead. Just a moment’s thought could prevent a serious fire. People living around heath and woodland should avoid having bonfires and those carrying out land management works should make sure that none of the machinery in use will emit sparks. As a Service, we cannot afford to have more incidents like Wareham Forest, which has involved firefighters from every one of our 50 fire stations. As a community, we cannot afford to lose any more of our natural habitat. We can only achieve this if everyone plays their part.

Assistant Chief Fire Officer Byron Standen
220 hectares of Wareham Forest has been destroyed

The Service will have firefighters and volunteers patrolling heathlands and open spaces over the weekend, and warning signs have been placed on key routes to remind people of the dangers.

Anyone living near heath or woodland in Dorset can help protect their homes by being part of the Firewise programme. For more information, visit www.dwfire.org.uk/firewise

If you have concerns about young people setting fires deliberately, the Fire and Rescue Service has a referral scheme called Firesetters to tackle such behaviours. For more information, visit www.dwfire.org.uk/firesetters

There is also information online aimed at very young children, so they understand the implications of heath fires – visit www.dwfire.org.uk/sam’s-sad-day