Massive rise in regional wildfires for under-pressure crews

The number of summer wildfires in Greater Manchester more than quadrupled this year, as the Fire Brigade Union warned its staff are under-funded and ill-equipped to deal with such an increase.

Wednesday, 10th October 2018, 8:57 am
Updated Wednesday, 10th October 2018, 10:13 am
Wildfires in Greater Manchester quadrupled this summer

Between May and July, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service tackled 947 grass and wild fires.

This was more than four times the summertime yearly average from 2014 to 2017, Press Association analysis found, as the summer’s soaring temperatures and weeks without rainfall turned grasslands into tinderboxes.

The figures show July had the highest number of fires in the joint hottest summer on record, according to the Met Office.

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Across the UK, the number of grass fires increased by 157 per cent in 2018, with almost 25,000 call outs over the three-month period.

A spokesman for the Fire Brigade Union (FBU) said: “The growing risk of grass-fires represents another strain on the dwindling resources of fire and rescue services, who are currently experiencing severe budget cuts across the country.

“Fire services do not receive enough funding to respond to an increase on this scale.”

A Freedom of Information request to Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service found 63 per cent of the fires were started deliberately.

The figures did not specify a cause, however in the national data where a cause was stated, 38 per cent were caused by a naked flame, such as candles or matches.

In 17 per cent smoking materials, such as a lighter or cigarette, were the source, and 11 per cent started naturally.

Where a location is listed in the national figures, the most common place was scrub land, with 30 per cent of fires.

In 23 per cent of incidents, the blaze was on grassland or grazing land, while 11 per cent were reported in gardens.

The most high profile fires of the summer across the country were at Winter Hill and Saddleworth Moor, which saw firefighters appealing to the public to donate sun cream, bug spray and hats.

The FBU spokesman said: “Does that sound like a properly resourced fire service? We also had reports of firefighters working for 17 hours straight to get the wildfires under control. That is simply not good enough.”

Large sections of the country went without rain for months and satellite imagery showed the usually green image of the British Isles turn to a dry yellow and brown.

Chris Lowther, operations lead at the National Fire Chiefs Council, called the summer’s weather “exceptional” but added “we can’t ignore the longer-term impact of climate change on fire services”.

“We have seen an increase in the number of fires in recent years alongside a 21 per cent reduction in the number of wholetime firefighters since 2011. It is vital the communities fire services represent have confidence in their emergency services,” he said.

Karen Lee, shadow fire and emergencies minister, said: “The Conservative government are not taking the public’s safety seriously.

“While large disasters such as the Saddleworth and Tameside fires devastated our grassland, fire services across the UK have seen swingeing cuts to their budgets and the total number of firefighters has been cut by nearly 12,000 since 2010.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “The tireless efforts of firefighters to contain wildfires this summer have been astounding.

“We have made sure fire and rescue services have the support and equipment required to successfully fight these types of fires.

“We support fire and rescue services by providing specialist capabilities for the largest emergencies, including high volume pumps and the National Resilience team of specialist experts.

Soldiers have also been deployed to tackle these incidents.”