Devastating wildfires spark call for public to help stop the blazes

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Firefighters had to tackle a blaze at Burley Heath earlier this year (Photo: Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service)

A RECENT spate of devastating wildfires across the New Forest has sparked a call for people to do their bit to help stop more breaking out.

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Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service (HFRS) and Forestry England (formerly the Forestry Commission) have joined forces to make the plea as the district stands on amber alert for severe wildfire conditions in the dry spring.

During the Easter holiday weekend both organisations responded to eight blazes, including one that damaged over 1,500 square metres of valuable habitat.

Rangers and keepers patrolling the Forest over those four days spoke with many people about using barbecues safely and helped extinguish those some that were likely to get out of control.

Zoe Cox, community manager for FE’s team in the district, said: “Fires can start in the Forest for a number of reasons.

“People are often genuinely shocked by the scale of the risks even small barbecues or fires can pose.

“Placed directly on the ground they can burn and damage the Forest floor, and in peaty or dry areas heat can travel down through the earth undetected and pop up some distance away or travel up into a tree through its roots to start a fire.

“To help us protect the Forest from risks like these we are asking visitors to help us by following our barbecue code.”

The warning’s release today (Friday) came the day after firefighters battled a blaze at Fawley Inclosure, which is being investigated as a potential arson.

A post about the incident on the Waterside Police Twitter page, with a picture of the aftermath, urged people to “#RatOnARat” by calling officers on 101 if they have any information.

The damage caused by Thursday’s arson at Fawley Inclosure (Photo: Hampshire Police)

FE has released the New Forest Safe Barbecue Code which set outs guidelines as to how and where to use a barbecue in the district and how to minimise the fire risks.

Disposable barbecues are only allowed at Bolderwood and Blackwater where special stands and water are available. Large groups can hire static barbecue hearths at Anderwood and Wilverley.

Non-disposable barbecues can be used in car parks, as long as they are raised off the ground on a stand, and only used on the hard-standing (car park surface).

Anyone using a barbecue must bring enough water to fully extinguish it afterwards before taking it away along with any other rubbish when they leave. Campfires and the burning of any wood from the Forest are not permitted.

Steve Ash, HFRS’s New Forest group manager, said: “We ask the public to do their bit in helping us prevent these fires happening in the first place.

“What this means is taking everything away with you after a picnic or barbecue to ensure nothing is left behind that could start a fire.

“Also please make sure you only have a barbecue or light a fire in a designated area and that everything has been properly extinguished before you leave.”

He added: “In the unfortunate case of there being a fire we ask that you get to a place of safety and call 999 immediately so we can put it out before it does significant damage to the countryside we all enjoy.”

Further ways to help reduce the wildfire risk include not discarding cigarettes and disposing of smoking materials properly, making sure they are fully put out. The use of fireworks and sky lanterns is prohibited in the Forest.

People are also urged to ensure they park appropriately in Forest areas so emergency vehicles can gain fast access to the affected area.

The New Forest National Park Authority and the NFU are also supporting the campaign to raise awareness in the New Forest and the wider countryside.

Paul Walton, head of environment and rural economy at the NPA, said: “We’ve experienced yet another dry spring and there is once more a heightened risk of fire in the countryside.

“We’d appeal to everyone not to light fires in the countryside. We are also asking people not to release sky lanterns or fireworks that could land in the Forest and set fire to the landscape.

“The risk of wildfire is severe and consequences devastating, particularly on heathland in the New Forest with its rare and sensitive ecosystems.”

For more information about the New Forest Safe Barbecue Code visit www.forestryengland.uk/barbecues-the-new-forest.

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