Editor, IFSEC Global

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James Moore is the Editor of IFSEC Global, the leading online publication for security and fire news in the industry. James writes, commissions, edits and produces content for IFSEC Global, including articles, breaking news stories and exclusive industry reports. He liaises and speaks with leading industry figures, vendors and associations to ensure security and fire professionals remain abreast of all the latest developments in the sector.
August 12, 2022

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London Fire Brigade warns of “unprecedented increase in grass fires” during second UK heatwave of the summer

‘Tinderbox dry’ conditions are creating an exceptional fire risk across London and the rest of the UK during the latest heatwave. The London Fire Brigade (LFB) has warned that data is showing a major increase in grass, rubbish and open land fires compared to last year, prompting warnings as the second heatwave of the summer starts in the UK.

Firefighter-GrassFires-22An amber warning for extreme heat has already been issued by the Met Office until the end of Sunday, with possible impacts to health, transport and infrastructure.

While temperatures are not expected to be as severe as those seen in July, where the fire service witnessed its busiest day since the Second World War, the lack of rain in recent weeks is expected to continue.

Firefighters have already tackled 340 grass, rubbish and open land fires in the first of week of August, compared to 42 fires in the same week last year, and chiefs are warning against barbecues in open spaces or balconies and to ensure cigarettes and rubbish are disposed of safely.

Assistant Commissioner Jonathan Smith said: “This summer has seen an unprecedented long, dry spell with high temperatures so the grass in London is tinderbox dry and the smallest of sparks can start a blaze which could cause devastation.

“Despite our continued warning over the last few weeks, we know there are still people who are barbecuing in parks, dropping cigarettes out of car windows and leaving rubbish lying around.

“We really need to prevent a repeat of the situation we saw on July 19, when homes, shops, garages, outbuildings and vehicles were destroyed across London in a number of significant fires.

“So please – we are asking Londoners to help us protect the city we all love by doing everything you can to prevent further grass fires. Please don’t barbecue in open spaces or balconies, throw your rubbish away safely and put your cigarettes out properly.”

The effects of this summer’s heatwaves have caused several major wildfires across Europe. France is currently experiencing what is being described as a “monster” wildfire, which continues to rage after three days, forcing 10,000 people to evacuate their homes. Its fire and rescue service has called in support from around Europe, with 1,100 French firefighters already tackling the blaze.

UK is “completely unprepared” for the fire risk posed by soaring temperatures

Riccardo la Torre, National Officer for the Fire Brigades Union, has also warned that cuts to services across the UK have left the fire service unable to deal with a repeat of the scenes from July. Speaking to Sky News, he said: “These are brutal, brutal fires to fight. The temperature that they burn at, the speed at which they spread at. The reality is we’ve been left completely unprepared to do that as a fire and rescue service”.

“We’ve had over a fifth of the workforce cut since 2010, that’s over 11,500 firefighters cut. Yet we’re asking them to deal with these extreme weather events in increasing regularity and increasing severity.”

La Torre warned the lack of preparation threatened the lives of fire officers. “The professionals on the ground have been warning that these conditions are coming and we very much saw the reality of that in these last few weeks”.

“Firefighters have been injured, firefighters have ended up in hospital, we’ve seen families lose their homes, we’ve seen businesses lost, infrastructure burn to the ground, because we simply can’t get to these fires quick enough. When we do, we simply don’t have the resources to deal with them adequately.”

How do you prepare for wildfires?

Wildfires are not likely to stop any time soon either, with International SOS advising that peak wildfire season can run through all the way till October. In the US, 3.9 million acres have already burned before July, with the impact of climate change said to be worsening conditions. The risk management experts at International SOS has advised some best practice to prepare:

  1. Ahead of a wildfire, you should prepare your property. ​​Remove flammable materials and vegetation in a 30-foot radius of structures. Outdoor furniture should be brought inside or placed in swimming pools. Close all windows and doors and leave them unlocked. Take down any drapes and curtains; consider fire-resistant window coverings. Shut off sprinklers and running water to preserve critical water pressure. Turn off gas and electricity supply to minimize residual damage.
  2. Consider evacuation options. Identify potential alternative accommodations in case evacuation is necessary, such as friends’ or relatives’ homes in other towns, public shelters or hotels. Ensure you know how to reach your pre-identified accommodation and be ready to take alternative routes if major roads are disrupted. Have a disaster plan in place, including meeting locations and communication plans, accounting for potential power disruption. Keep an emergency supply kit ready. Plan multiple evacuation routes.
  3. Know who to contact. Ensure you save contact numbers of the police/emergency services, your nearest Assistance Centre and other local numbers that could be helpful in an emergency. Write down these details in the event that your phone runs out of power and is unable to be recharged. Designate an out-of-area contact person in case of group separation.

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