'Extreme' risk of wildfires in Dorset

'Extreme' risk of wildfires in Dorset

Published by Maria Greenwood at 2:05pm 29th May 2020.

The risk of further devastating wildfires in heath and woodland across Dorset 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.

'Perfect storm'

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.

wareham forest fire

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

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

wareham forest fire
New shoots spring up 11 days after the fire at Wareham Forest.

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."

He added:

"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.

BBQs in Wareham Forest
BBQs in Wareham Forest

"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."

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.