Wildfires increase by nearly 500% as government urged to hold emergency meeting

Soaring temperatures have caused wildfires to increase by nearly 500 per cent, Dorset and Wiltshire Fire Service has warned, as drought conditions put pressure on the water supply in parts of the UK.

Jason Moncrieff, the area manager for the Dorset and Wiltshire service, said it is “massively stretched” by the increase in wildfire incidents in the region.

“It is a massive difference. The first 10 days of August this year versus last year, there were 492 per cent more of these types of fires. So that’s field fires, grass fires, heathland fires – all those sorts of fires in the open, a 492 per cent increase this year,” Mr Moncrieff told the BBC’s Today programme.

He added that a fire on Friday on the Studland peninsula near Purbeck was caused by an outdoor barbeque so could have been avoided.

Countryside regions in Dorset are ‘tinder dry’, officers have warned

(Swanage Fire Station)

Emergency services were called to the blaze at around 1pm. At one point 90 crew members were working to extinguish the flames, and firefighters stayed at the scene throughout the night.

Flames spread to the Isle of Purbeck, forcing police to evacuate Studland beach, which had been busy with people out in the sun.

The fire service is warning people against using barbeques in the countryside, where the grass has dried out following weeks of hot and dry conditions, and a red-severity fire alert is now in place across Dorset and Wiltshire for the coming days.

“Amazingly, yesterday’s fire looks as though it was started by a disposable barbecue,” Mr Moncrief said. “There can’t be many people in Britain who don’t know the advice at the moment is not to bring a barbecue, do not use a barbecue, especially disposable barbecues, at these places such as Studland Heath. That’s our message: bring a picnic – don’t bring a barbecue.”

The region’s countryside is “tinder dry,” group manager Stuart Gillion added.

“This not only increases the risk of fires spreading quickly, but also increases the risk of ignition. We are urging local farmers to take extra care, as sparks from hot machinery can easily lead to a field catching fire, and we ask everyone enjoying our beautiful countryside and coastline to take extra care and be vigilant with anything that could lead to a fire starting.”

Drought ‘could persist for months’

It comes after the Environment Agency (EA) warned that England’s drought could persist for months, even into 2023. John Curtin, executive director for local operations at the EA, said that after the driest summer in 50 years, it would take “weeks’ worth of rain” to replenish water sources.

The drought could persist into the new year, the Environment Agency has warned

(Swanage Fire Station)

Eight of 14 areas monitored by the EA are now classified as suffering from drought, including Devon and Cornwall, Solent and South Downs, Kent and South London, Herts and North London, East Anglia, Thames, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire, and East Midlands.

Although the EA has reassured the public that essential water supplies are safe, Thames Water has been forced to set up temporary bottled water sites across Surrey as water has been cut off in the region or dropped to low pressure following a technical issue overnight.

“We’re very sorry if you have no water or low pressure due to the technical issues at Netley Mill water treatment works. We are doing everything we can to get supplies back to normal as quickly as possible,” Thames Water said in a statement on Saturday.

Frustrated locals could be seen forming long queues at water sites in Cranleigh and Surrey Hills after waking up to find that they had no water.

South West Surrey MP Jeremy Hunt commented on the situation, assuring residents that Thames Water staff were working “round the clock” to resolve the issue. His intervention was met with criticism as social media users said he was using the incident as a “photo op”.

Former England footballer Graeme Le Saux, who lives in the area, said in response: “It is all about you, isn’t it? Whilst people suffer, you happily support mismanaged vital infrastructure. There is no bottled water at the pick up points, they’ve already run out. But hey, a great opp for you to send out some meaningless tweet!”

‘Take four-minute showers’

Meanwhile, Southern Water, which imposed a hosepipe ban this month, advised the public to save water by flushing the toilet only when needed, take four-minute showers, and collecting shower water to flush the toilet with.

Water companies have urged consumers to adjust their habits in order to save water

(Swanage Fire Station)

Heaping more pressure on the Conservatives, the Labour Party called on the government to summon a Cobra meeting to ensure that water supplies are protected during the drought.

The party’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said: “This is the second major heatwave in weeks, but this Tory government is failing our country yet again. Conservative inaction on drought warnings is creating a dustbowl Britain.

“Instead of stepping in, ministers have fallen asleep in the midday sun. They lecture the public on the use of hosepipes, but where is their plan to protect our vital water system?

“It has been nearly a year since they launched their National Resilience Strategy consultation, and yet they don’t have a single plan. They are all spin and no substance.”

More extreme heat and drought conditions were expected in the southern half of the UK this weekend, while the northern half is set to see thunderstorms and floods.

The Met Office has issued an amber heat warning covering most of England and Wales, where temperatures of up to 34C are forecast for Saturday and Sunday.