United Kingdom — Some of Britain’s most outstanding areas of natural beauty are at risk from the sort of fires that devastated Greece this summer, according to new analysis looking at the threats posed by global warming.
Firefighters report that the number of heath, forest and grass fires in the UK has risen by more than 60 per cent in 20 years as long, hot summers have created tinder-dry conditions. Conversely, when summers are not arid, a huge increase in the threat of flooding has been another major concern for firefighters. Figures show the average land temperature has risen by 1C since the 19th century, raising concerns over extreme fluctuations in weather.
Now the Fire Brigades Union says that, with its members being asked to tackle outdoor blazes and flooding, their ability to deal with burning buildings is diminished, which could put lives at risk. ‘Tackling these sorts of fires or flooding is becoming a huge part of our job,’ said the union’s Sean Cahill. ‘The rise in the threat posed by global warming is unprecedented and it’s out of our control. We believe these threats posed by extreme weather are going to increase.’
According to an FBU analysis of government figures, between 1986 and 1993 there were on average 37,371 grassland and heathland blazes a year in Britain. But in the 11 years from 1994 to 2005 the average rose to 60,332 a year.
Last year the number of outdoor fires soared by 37 per cent to 88,400, and in 1995 and 2003 it peaked at more than 100,000. The FBU warns the government is ignoring the problem at its peril. ‘People think tackling the new threats associated with climate change is just an aside to our job,’ Cahill said. ‘But it’s becoming a core part.’
The increasing fire threat is having a profound effect on some of Britain’s most famous beauty spots. Rural areas in Devon, Cornwall and the north have been plagued by grass fires during recent dry summers.
In 2006 a series of blazes ripped across Ilkley Moor in Yorkshire’s Bronte country, which is also home to important prehistoric rock carvings. As a result, regional tourism temporarily shut down. Experts say that it will be 20 years before the region fully recovers and that it will cost millions of pounds to put right.
Despite the rising fire and flood threats, firefighters claim that little has so far been done. A Local Government Association document looking ahead to the future of firefighting in 2017 makes no mention of climate change. And the government is reluctant to increase funding when the number of property and vehicle fires is falling.
But a Department for Communities and Local Government document highlights the threat from forest fires, which ravaged Greece this summer, killing 65. Because of climate change, it states, ‘ it is definitely important to investigate the possibility that forest fires could grow to become a significant problem’.