A NEW fleet of 4x4s with the latest equipment will boost Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service’s ability to respond to large rural forest and moorland fires. New all-terrain vehicles will enable fire crews to reach off-road blazes that fire engines can’t reach while fire staff will be travelling to Catalonia this month to see how the Spanish Fire Brigade deal with rural fires. Vast areas of forest and heather moors play an important role in the Northumberland rural economy making it vital to be able to tackle large fires that could devastate the land and businesses the countryside supports. The risk of wildland fires is on the increase as a result of drier winters and summers experienced in the UK. To tackle the threat, Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service have put plans in place that will initially see four specialist vehicles deployed to high-risk areas in the north and west of the county. The four-wheeled Isuzu pick-ups are able to carry a full fire crew, special water-fogging systems and nearly half a ton of water, making them effective to fight a wildland fire in an off-road, remote area. There are plans to improve this capability even further in forthcoming months and years. Brian Hesler, Northumberland’s chief fire officer said: “This rural initiative is another example of how we are improving the way we serve the people of Northumberland through assessing real risks. “Large rural fires have been recognised as a significant issue within our risk plans. Thankfully we have not recently had a major rural fire in Northumberland, but they have occurred elsewhere in the country and we must be prepared. “These off road vehicles are an important addition to our fire fighting fleet, and the training our officers receive in the Spanish mountains will be fed back into the process for all rural fire crews to share.” Training has been developed which has seen a partnership set up with the Catalonian Fire Service in Spain. Specialist Spanish Fire officers who are experienced in this field gave training in Northumberland last year. Six Northumberland officers will now travel to Catalonia where they will complete their training in the Spanish mountains. Two forestry commission officers have also been included in the training as the brigade is keen to develop the skills of partner organisations. Local officers are also working with about 20 other organisations including the Ministry of Defence and other large land owners to establish the ‘Northumberland Fire Group’. The purpose of this group will be to share knowledge, skills and equipment to help prevent fires and to increase co-operation when incidents occur. The cost of the training is being sponsored by local business and commerce, including Dennis Common of Longframlington, who currently supplies the four wheel drive vehicles used to carry the water fogging units.