Wildfires in the UK will destroy rural communities and claim multiple lives over the coming years if work is not carried out to mitigate their impact, a specialist has claimed.
Simon Thorp, chairman of the England and Wales Wildfire Forum, sounded the alarm at a Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust meeting in Parliament this week (February 26), just before wildfires broke out in Saddleworth, Greater Manchester, Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh and the Dublin Mountains.
He told attendees to expect UK events like the wildfire which tore through the Pedrogao Grande region of Portugal in 2017, destroying properties and killing 66 people who were trapped inside their homes and cars as they tried to escape.
“There is a danger of thinking wildfire is not here yet, we can ignore it,” he said.
“It is already here. Look at the statistics – we had the third-largest area burned in the EU last year.
“Could we see people burned out in their cars in woodland? I think yes. It is not if, but when. We need to bear that in mind. It is going to happen.”
Professor Rob Marrs from the University of Liverpool, who was also speaking at the event, called for farmers and land managers to be able to use prescribed burning to reduce the fuel load, making it easier for firefighters to tackle wildfires when they take place and allowing faster recovery of the environment.
Guidance for farmers and land managers is expected to be looked at by Defra as part of a review of wildfire, which has been delayed by Brexit.
But Mr Thorp warned a lack of funding for wildfire mitigation and the absence of an effective system to advise when fire risk is highest were also causing problems.
These issues have been compounded by the Government’s failure to work in a cross-departmental way.
Mr Thorp said: “Focusing on England, we have got the Home Office dealing with the response through the Fire Service.
“We have Defra, they have responsibility for the vegetation, the stuff which burns. Then we have the Cabinet Office looking at resilience.
“Those three departments are not communicating well. They are all pulling in different directions and thinking it is somebody else’s problem.”