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British cities warned to prepare for wildfires

British cities warned to prepare for wildfires
Fire chief Dave Swallow in the aftermath of a moorland fire south of Birmingham last week. (BBC)

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Last week’s wildfires across London show that lessons learned tackling rural blazes must urgently be applied to built-up areas, fire chiefs say.

The record-breaking heatwave, with 40C peaks, came during a prolonged spell of dry weather – and  that dried out gardens, verges and green spaces.

That helped to spark the kind of blazes more commonly seen in the countryside.

More than 40 houses and shops were destroyed after a number of grass fires spread to nearby buildings.

The Met Office estimates that climate change makes the extreme heat seen last week in the UK 10 times more likely. Extreme heat and dry conditions are major factors contributing to wildfires.

According to the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) there have been almost 500 wildfires so far this year alone in England and Wales, compared with 237 last year.

NFCC lead wildfire tactical advisor David Swallow, who is also group commander for Hereford and Worcester Fire Service, said: “Everything is bone-dry and services need to recognise the risk they’ve now got. If they don’t, then they’re naïve.

“There are very urban services that think that wildfires are low down on the risk list. I understand the need to prioritise resources, but there needs to be a review.”

The wildfire group that Swallow leads draws its members – and expertise – from firefighters in predominantly rural areas more susceptible to such blazes, like Northumberland, South Wales, the Peak District, and Wiltshire.

Swallow believes that every fire service in the UK should have wildfire training. That way, forces could learn valuable tactics from firefighters more familiar with tackling blazes on grasslands, on moors and in woods.

He said that his wildfire group had for some time been preparing for the increased risk of wildfires from climate change but that the risk was now “immediate”.

London Fire Brigade assistant commissioner Jonathan Smith said that, following last week’s blazes, the service was setting out plans for how it might deal with any increase in such fires.

“This is something the brigade and other emergency services need to be very well prepared and plan for, as we know sadly it’s going to happen again,” he said. (BBC)