Fire alerts in tinder-dry forests

Fire alerts in tinder-dry forests

3 July 2006

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Norfolk, England, UK — Firemen were pushed to the limit today during a spate of weather-related forest and field blazes. People were urged to be extra cautious after East Anglia’s woodlands were placed on “extreme” fire risk following a huge fire-fighting operation at an illegal rave site and a series of smaller incidents.

The warning came after around 70 firefighters spent more than 24 hours tackling the biggest fire, involving six acres of land at Weeting, near Brandon.

And with temperatures expected to continue to soar over the coming days, fire chiefs and forestry officials are warning walkers, cyclists, horse riders and other users to be on high alert.

Crews from across Norfolk were rushed to burning woodlands and fields at Hockwold, near Brandon, Norwich, North Creake, near Wells, and other sites across the county.

Martin Barsby, spokesman for Norfolk Fire Service, said the hot weather was proving a challenge to control room staff.

“It is not overstretched, but it is fair to say that it has been a very busy day. There are various things happening across the county, but our control room is excellent at deploying resources to make sure everything is in place at the right time,” he said.

Mike Taylor, business manager for the Forestry Commission, said a combination of extra people, drying vegetation, and hot weather posed a huge fire risk.

“We want people to enjoy the forest, but the key message is that we under an extreme fire risk and we need the public to be extra vigilant and careful. That means no discarded cigarettes, broken bottles and BBQs.”

He added that illegal raves were causing a “major problem” for East Anglia’s 40 woodland sites, which caused an additional risk at weekends.

The warning came after around two hectares of vegetation was destroyed after a blaze broke out at an illegal rave at Weeting on Sunday afternoon, which was attended by around 200 partygoers.

Six fire crews from Norfolk and Suffolk were at the Site of Special Scientific Interest and Special Protection Area for most of yesterday to dampen down and tackle the fire which had spread to underground peat troughs.

Phil Berry, fire station manager at Thetford, said relief firefighters were called in as a result of dehydration and the nature of the blaze. “It has been difficult because of the heat we have had to work in. It is a very messy job and arduous because we have had to dig the peat out.”

“We would urge the public to please be aware of their acts in woodlands at anytime, but particularly now when it is very dry and the chances of a fire are high. As this demonstrates, it has a huge impact on the resources needed to fight a fire and affects a beautiful forest.” Police and fire are treating the Weeting incident as an accident.

Other 999 call outs yesterday included a 400sqm woodland fire, off Salhouse Road, Sprowston, which took an hour to extinguish. Crews from Downham Market, Methwold and Fakenham spent three hours tackling 20 sqm of scrubland ablaze at Hockwold this morning. And appliances from Wells and Fakenham were called to a field fire at North Creak this afternoon.


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