Joint exercise tests wildfire response

Five years on from the devastating Swinley Forest fires, Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service (RBFRS) has led a large joint exercise in partnership with the South East of England Wildfire Group, which brought together several fire and rescue services to test their response to wildfire incidents and train crews in new wildfire firefighting techniques.

The exercise was held at Butter Steep Rise in Ascot on Wednesday 5 October and involved West Sussex Fire and Rescue, East Sussex Fire and Rescue, Surrey Fire and Rescue, Dorset Fire and Rescue Service, along with a number of other agencies including the Forestry Commission, the Crown Estate and Bracknell Forest Council.

A number of crews and specialist vehicles were deployed for the exercise, which was run to simulate the second day of an operation, and involved a live burn to make it as realistic as possible. It was designed not only to test the emergency response, but also to provide valuable training to personnel and improve partnership working between services for an incident of this nature.

The exercise was testament to RBFRS’s strategic commitment to working closely with and sharing emergency resources with other fire and rescue services to ensure a swift and effective response when called to emergencies, such as wildfires.

Wildfires can be very dangerous, spreading quickly, changing direction and threatening people, wildlife, livestock, domestic animals and property.

In May 2011, RBFRS crews, supported by a number of other fire and rescue services, attended a devastating fire in Swinley Forest near Bracknell, which was RBFRS’ largest incident to date, in terms of resources and length of operations.

Station Commander Jon Singleton, RBFRS Lead on Wildfire Response, said: “In my experience you can never be too prepared for an incident of this nature. Wildfires can spread rapidly and the emergency response to this is vital in terms of protecting people and their homes.

“But there’s also a big role for the public to play in helping to prevent wildfires – by reporting any fires or people you see acting carelessly or irresponsibly with fire in the countryside.”Rob Gazzard, Chairman of the South East England Wildfire Group said: “This exercise is a great opportunity for landowners and fire and rescue services to come together to develop key skills and tactics in the event of a large wildfire in the future.”

Here are some key tips on how you can help prevent wildfires in rural and semi-rural areas:

  • If you see a fire in the countryside, however small, call 999 immediately, stating the location and any local landmarks.
  • Report anyone acting irresponsibly or carelessly with fire in the countryside.
  • Do not discard lit cigarette ends – make sure they are completely extinguished.
  • Any kind of vegetation will burn – manage the space around your home in places of risk to prevent rapid fire growth.