Schotland — Although Scotland may not suffer from the catastrophes that can engulf communities elsewhere in the world, new guidelines have been drawn up on the threat such blazes can pose.
Even here they can seriously stretch rescue services and require rural properties to be evacuated.
Now the issue has been deemed so serious the Scottish Government has prepared comprehensive plans to give fire and rescue service personnel a deeper understanding and awareness of the phenomenon.
It is something some crews got to know only too well earlier this year when well in excess of 200 wildfires in one week stretched fire services across a huge area of the West Highlands.
The Fire and Rescue Service Wildfire Operational Guidance document cites another seven days in the spring of 2011which demonstrates the serious impact of Scottish wildfires.
Then Highland and Islands Fire Rescue Service deployed more than 1800 firefighters to deal with 70 significant wildfire incidents in late April and early May which destroyed 22,730 acres of moorland and forestry.
The blazes cost the fire service £125,000 to tackle but also caused up to £27 million damage.
Meanwhile, Glasgow University scientists recently calculated one blaze that smouldered for weeks in the Cairngorms National Park released back into the atmosphere an amount of carbon dioxide it would have taken all the peatlands across the UK a year to remove.
Peat soils cover more than one-fifth of Scotland’s land area, with the deepest peat storing anything up to three billion tonnes of carbon, or 10 times the amount stored in the whole of the UK’s trees.
Peat soils in Scotland could contain almost 25 times as much carbon as all other plant life in the UK.
The new 350-page guidance document from the Scottish Government provides a detailed analysis of wildfires from the relevant legislation to risk assessment procedures; from an intensive examination of how fires in countryside behave to how they are best tackled.
It also looks at the different types of fuel the fires feed off, from woodlands, both conifers and hardwoods such as oak and ash, to moorland scrub.
It studies the effects of weather on fires and also the impact topography can have on the development of a serious blaze.
Assistant Chief Officer Robert Scott, director of Service Delivery for the north area of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, and chairman of the Scottish Wildfire Forum, said the guidelines established a solid platform for public agencies working with private parties such as landowners to work together.
He said: “When wildfires occur they impact greatly on many rural and remote areas of Scotland and the UK and can cause substantial environmental and economic damage. This impact ranges from damage to farmland and wildlife, as well as protected woodland and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) to buildings, property and the lives of those who live in rural communities.”
Community Safety Minister Roseanna Cunningham added: “Wildfires can have a truly devastating impact on communities, agriculture and environment right across Scotland.