A fire chief from West Yorkshire has visited Spain for specialist training in tackling wildfires. And this month firefighters dealt with a blaze on Marsden Moor showing how important that training will be in West Yorkshire this summer.
Richard Hawley, who is West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s lead wildfire officer, spent a week in Tivissa, a small town in the Catalan mountains. He was there for intensive training looking at how burning vegetation in a controlled way can actually be used as a tool to tackle fast-moving wildfires.
Mr Hawley said: “This was a fantastic chance to learn from some of the best in the world when it comes to wildfires, and put theoretical knowledge into practice.
“By burning vegetation, you take the fuel away from the oncoming fire. It’s a tactic that’s within national guidance and used routinely around the world. This week allowed us to see experts share their knowledge to limit wildfire development.
“We are also looking to see if some international firefighting tactics can be implemented at WYFRS so we are well prepared to respond if we see a repeat of last summer when the county was hugely affected by wildfires.
“The challenges we faced last summer have led to the service investing in additional equipment to deal with wildfires. We will soon be getting two new all-terrain vehicles and additional PPE for wildfire crews and our non-specialist firefighters. We are committed to improving our wildfire provision and it was decided after last year that we needed this additional equipment.”
On Saturday April 8 just before 5pm a wildfire at Blake Lea Lane, Marsden, saw one square kilometre of moorland up in flames.
Crews from Slaithwaite, Dewsbury, Halifax, Skelmanthorpe, Huddersfield and Todmorden attended as well as a wildfire unit and they used blowers and beaters to extinguish the flames before leaving the incident at 7.45pm. Further investigations of the fire have not been conclusive.
Figures show that crews in England dealt with nearly 25,000 vegetation fires in summer last year – the highest in at least a decade. Across the country there were almost four times the number of fires in 2022 compared to summer the previous year and some services tackled more than 50 fires a day at the peak of the heatwaves, which reached a record-breaking 40C.
WYFRS attended more than four times the number of wildfires last year compared to in 2021. At least 24,316 vegetation fires were recorded by fire services in England from June to August, according to data obtained by the PA news agency through Freedom of Information requests.
Fire services that saw high spikes in daily fires include West Yorkshire, which recorded 68 on July 18 and 65 on July 19.
Mr Hawley said: “Wildfires develop very quickly and take hold faster than people can run. They can be started by a carelessly used BBQ or even broken glass. By embracing the latest tactics we should be able to stop them in their path and hopefully see a lot less destruction this summer.”
Recently WYFRS launched their #BeMoorAware campaign, which aims to prevent wildfires and reduce the impact on communities, businesses and the environment.
Advice on helping to prevent wildfires include:
• Clear up and take your rubbish home after picnics;
• Observe all signs and notices – they are there for a reason;
• Follow the National Trust Countryside Code;
• Don’t leave glass bottles. Not only can they hurt people and animals, but they can magnify the sun’s rays and start a fire;
• Never throw lighted cigarette ends onto the ground, or out of the window of vehicles. Always ensure that they are completely extinguished and disposed of responsibly;
• Never be tempted to light a fire in the countryside;
• If you see a fire, or someone using a BBQ on the moorland, call 999 and ask for the Fire Service.