Firefighters battling ‘unprecedented’ increase in grass fires in ‘tinderbox’ UK

·2-min read

London firefighters have seen an “unprecedented” rise in grass, rubbish and open land fires even before a four-day heatwave hit the capital.

Firefighters tackled 340 such blazes in the first week of August, more than eight times as many as the 42 in the same week last year.

The new data was published at the beginning of a four-day warning of extreme heat across southern England and east Wales.

London Fire Brigade warned “tinderbox” conditions meant there was an exceptional risk of fire across London during the heatwave, while the Met Office has said it will raise its fire severity alert to “exceptional” - the highest level - on Friday.

Firefighters have told The Independent that they will not be able to attend all call-outs as the heatwave stretches services already at “crisis point.”

Last week, The Independent revealed more wildfires broke out in England and Wales in July than in the whole of last year.

There were 244 wildfires recorded in both countries in July, compared with only 11 in July last year – more than 22 times as many, and more than the 237 recorded in the whole of 2021, according to the National Fire Chiefs Council’s wildfire lead Paul Hedley.

Wildfires logged by the NFCC are significant blazes that meet one or more of its criteria, such as a size bigger than one hectare, sustained flame lengths or more than 1.5 metres and a serious threat to life, environment, property and infrastructure.

Scientists warn the climate crisis will see longer and more intense heatwaves and more impactful droughts that fuel wildfires if human-caused global heating carries on unabated.

Scientists found the record-breaking heatwave last month would have been almost impossible without the climate crisis.

The scene after a blaze in Wennington, east London last month, after record temperatures fuelled fires (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)
The scene after a blaze in Wennington, east London last month, after record temperatures fuelled fires (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

London Fire Brigade is urging people not to have barbecues in open spaces or on balconies, and to put cigarettes out properly.

“Despite our continued warning over the last few weeks, we know there are still people who are barbecuing in parks, dropping cigarettes out of car windows and leaving rubbish lying around,” said assistant commissioner Jonathan Smith.

“We really need to prevent a repeat of the situation we saw on July 19, when homes, shops, garages, outbuildings and vehicles were destroyed across London in a number of significant fires,” he added.