Jeff Orr

Threat from forest fire is on increase

TheScotsman , October 06, 2004


FRANK URQUHART

A TASKFORCE is to be set up to plan action against a feared increase in forest and heathland fires across Scotland.

Fire chiefs are concerned that hotter summers and drier springs, caused by global warming, could turn forests and moors into potential tinderboxes.

Plans for a national working group on ways to cope with the increased threat were announced yesterday by Jeff Orr, HM Chief Inspector of Fire Services in Scotland, at a conference in Aberdeen.

He also said fire chiefs were considering deploying helicopters to help with fires and terrorist related incidents.

Mr Orr said the provision of helicopters for fire and rescue services was being pursued by the Fire Services Inspectorate and the Chief Fire Officers Association for Scotland.

“It has always been recognised that helicopters may come into the fire and rescue service in the way that they have come into the police force over the last 20 years,” he said.

“The helicopters could be used for incidents like firefighting at sea and moving personnel in the event of a terrorist attack. If you were doing that, you would ensure they were also capable of firefighting.”

Announcing the establishment of the new multi-agency wildfires task group, Mr Orr said: “Moorland, heath and forest fires don’t happen very often in Scotland, but when they do they are a big drain on resources.

“The prediction is that we are going to have drier springs, shorter, but hotter, summers and wetter autumns and winters. And the predictions are that we may get more and even bigger wildfires in the future. We are not waiting until that happens and we are reacting now to the predictions of climatic change.”

The brigades, he said, were already learning from firefighters in Europe who have years of experience in tackling large forest fires. But there was also a need for a national plan.

Mr Orr explained the taskforce would involve the fire service, the Forestry Commission, landowners, and environmental organisations.

He said:

“We need to do more. At the moment we have pockets of good practice and it is fair to say that Grampian and Highland and Islands fire brigades have, for some time now, had multi-agency approaches to the planning and execution of tackling this type of fire. But even they accept they can be better at it. And the other six brigades in Scotland, as a minimum, could learn from these two examples.

“In typical British fashion, we do our best and cope. But now the forecasters are telling us wildfires are going to be a more regular event and could be larger because of climatic change, we need to better plan and better co-ordinate for it.

“I would liken it to what we are trying to do in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. We are trying to have a UK-wide co-ordinated approach.”


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