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RBFRS urges residents to be wildfire aware this summer

With more people planning to spend time outdoors over the coming weeks, Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service (RBFRS) is urging residents to take some simple steps to reduce the risk of a wildfire breaking out.

A week-long wildfire awareness campaign (running 26 July – 1 August) is taking place, following a period of warm and dry weather and with more people expected to be outside enjoying the countryside due to COVID-19 restrictions easing and schools being closed for the summer.

This advice comes shortly after the 10-year anniversary of the devastating wildfire in Swinley Forest. The forest fire affected 300 hectares of land, 55% of which was damaged by fire and forestry clearing operations. The Swinley Forest fire remains the largest incident ever dealt with by RBFRS in terms of resources and length of operations.

Wildfires can be very dangerous, spreading quickly, changing direction and threatening people and property. 

James Hunt, Watch Based Station Manager, said: “Warm weather and dry ground increase the risk of wildfires, and what may start as a small fire in the countryside can quickly become out of control.

“It’s vital everyone plays their part in helping prevent wildfires, especially during the summer months. If you’re spending time outside, always dispose of your litter safely and only have BBQs or campfires in designated areas where it is safe to do so. Sunlight may magnify off litter onto the ground and campfires or BBQs may burn underground undetected, both can lead to large wildfires long after you have left the area. It’s also important that you know what to do if you discover a wildfire. Should you see an uncontrolled fire in the countryside, make sure you move to a safe location and call 999 immediately.”

However, wildfires don’t just threaten people and property but also local heathland, wildlife, livestock and domestic animals. That’s why Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service is also supporting Heath Week (running 24-30 July), run by Thames Basin Heaths Partnership, which showcases local nature and urges people to protect it.

Sarah Bunce, Communications Officer for the Thames Basin Heaths Partnership, said: “Local heathland is a precious wilderness and home to some very special wildlife. There are amazing birds that nest on the ground, rare butterflies, a dazzling collection of dragonflies and all six species of native reptiles. Wildfires are a major threat to these special creatures and their heathland habitat. A fire will spread fast in this environment, destroying everything in its path, including chicks, eggs, snakes, lizards, small mammals, dragonflies and butterflies. Join us for Heath Week – it’s timed for the beginning of the school holidays and is packed with free activities to get kids (of all ages!) outside, enjoying the countryside and discovering local nature.”

The Crown Estate, which owns and manages the woodland in Swinley Forest is also supporting this campaign. Richard Everett, Chief Forester, said: “We are happy to be supporting RBFRS’ wildfire campaign this week, raising awareness of the devastating impact that a wildfire can have on our local outdoor spaces.

“A lot of work has been done since the Swinley Forest fire in 2011 and in the aftermath, around 51,000 trees were replanted and spaced out deliberately to prevent flames from jumping from tree to tree as they did previously. However, work in Swinley Forest is ongoing to maintain the condition of the Forest and to protect its habitats so that it is still an exciting place for people to visit. We would also ask that people do their bit to protect Swinley Forest and all other local outdoor spaces by following RBFRS’ wildfire prevention advice.”

To reduce the number of wildfires and their consequences this summer, Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service is therefore sharing its advice on how residents can do their part in protecting their local countryside and woodland areas. 

Here are some key tips on how to help prevent wildfires:

  • Please do not be tempted to light a campfire in the countryside, a small fire could quickly become out of control.
  • Extinguish cigarettes properly and don’t throw cigarette ends on the ground or out of car windows.
  • Do not leave bottles or glass in woodland – sunlight shining through glass can start fires (take them home and recycle them).
  • Do not leave barbecues unattended and only light them in designated areas.
  • Do not burn off garden rubbish during hot periods or if you live close to woodland or heathland.
  • If you see a wildfire, do no try to tackle it yourself. Move to a safe place and call 999. If possible, give an accurate location of the fire, for example:
    – Name of the nearest road.
    – Access points.
    – Visible landmarks (pubs, farms, power lines, etc).
    – Locally known names.
    – Map grid references (Ordinance Survey ideally or an A to Z).

To keep up to date with the campaign, follow our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts.