Crews on alert after plague of grass fires

Crews on alert after plague of grass fires

10 March 2010

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UK —  Firefighters were bracing themselves for another hectic shift last night as a spring grass fire plague scorched the region.

Thousands of acres of land have been left blackened after bone dry bracken, gorse and grass went up in smoke.

A number of these fires have been started deliberately, according to a Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Authority spokesman.

It dealt with around 200 emergency grass fire calls between 6pm on Monday at 1am on yesterday — nearly one every two minutes.

Crews were dispatched to around 50 blazes, tying up valuable resources which might otherwise be used to rescue car accident victims or people trapped in burning homes.

Yesterday afternoon emergency calls began to build again after another tinder dry and breezy day.

Garngoch Common, near Gorseinon, was scorched on Monday evening, while on Sunday crews spent around 12 hours dealing with a 250-acre blaze at Rhossili Down.

Some smaller fires are part of a seasonal, controlled burning process which has gone on for a number of generations.

But Sian Jones, National Trust property manager for Gower, hit out at the destruction of so much habitat at Rhossili.

“The whole of Rhossili Down going up (in smoke) is vandalism,” she said.

On Monday, fire crews attended blazes in Garngoch, Garden Village, Llanrhidian, Llanmadoc, Penclawdd, Parkmill, Cefn Bryn, West Cross, Morriston, Penllergaer, Clase, Portmead, Trallwn, Glyncorrwg, Margam, Briton Ferry, Seven Sisters, Aberavon, Pontardawe, Ystradgynlais, Croeserw, Abercrave, Cymmer, Resolven, Brynaman, Bynea and Llanelli’s north dock.

A fire service spokesman said: “Most of these fires were deliberate.”

Youths were spotted starting fires at Caerau, at the top of the Llynfi Valley, on Monday afternoon by a police sergeant seconded to Forestry Commission Wales (FCW).

“He witnessed fires being lit by youngsters on their way home from school,” said Peter Cloke, FCW deputy forest district manager, who added that the sergeant was due to visit the school today.

Mr Cloke said it was very rare for fires to rip through the tree canopy in Wales, but added that the FCW was undertaking a two-year research project investigating why fire bugs set the countryside alight.

“We have got these stunning landscapes and valleys,” he said. “Why turn them black?”

Sion Brackenbury, project officer for Gower Commons Initiative, said commoners were entitled to burn a common as long it was “actively grazed” and they had the required permission.

“You can have fires with agricultural intent to stimulate new growth for that year, and to clear diseases like tics and bracken mulch,” said Mr Brackenbury.

Such fires were planned and carefully managed, he said, adding that fly-tippers burning their illegal waste was a big problem.

The dry weather is set to continue until this Saturday at least, according to the Met Office, although the odd rain shower could be possible on Friday.

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