Heatwave causes average of 30 grass fires a week in Barking and Dagenham

PUBLISHED: 14:24 26 July 2013 | UPDATED: 14:46 26 July 2013

A grass fire rages

A grass fire rages


Fires on grass lands are at an epidemic rate following the hottest heatwave for seven years.

As temperatures teeter around 30C, Barking and Dagenham is seeing some 25 to 30 grass or open land fires on average a week, according to firefighters, with some destroying several acres of grass land at a time.

The fires give off an acrid grey smoke and are particularly deadly because they travel extremely quickly and can continue smouldering underground, before popping up again elsewhere, trapping people within a ring of flames and smoke.

Paul McClenaghan, Dagenham fire station manager, said: “In some cases grass fires can travel faster than you can run. You can easily get cut off and suddenly find yourself in the middle of a fire.”

If left unchecked, the hot surges can go on to catch buildings and cars alight, he said, adding they take a gruelling effort from firefighters to combat using beaters and industrial size water pistols strapped to their backs.

How to reduce the risk of grass fires

People can reduce the risk of grass fires and make their summer safer for both themselves and their families by following a few simple rules from the London Fire Brigade:

• Don’t leave camp fires or barbecues unattended and extinguish them properly after you have finished using them.

• Clear away bottles, glasses and any broken glass to avoid them magnifying the sun and starting a fire.

• Dispose of cigarettes and matches properly and make sure they are completely extinguished.

• Explain to children the dangers of playing with and lighting fires.

If you see a fire do not attempt to put it out yourself as grass fires can travel very quickly and change direction without warning.

Call the fire brigade and if you can, stay around so that you can direct firefighters to the scene — but only if it is safe to do so

“Whereas a house fire would last for about an hour, grass fires can go on for literally days and weeks.

“For crews it is extremely exhausting because sometimes you have to go up close and personal with the fire to put it out,” said Paul, adding calls to the same fire that had gone underground before re-emerging were not uncommon.

Across the capital, the latest figures for July, which cover the first 22 days of the month, saw 670 grass and open land fires reported, compared with just 126 last year.

Firefighters tackled nearly twice as many grass and open land fires per day in June this year compared with last year.

London Fire Brigade’s head of operations, prevention and response, Dave Brown, said: “We’re attending the highest number of grass fires since 2006 but we are more than able to cope with every incident in London.

“Grass fires can cause a great deal of damage to open spaces and wildlife, and can be avoided by making sure that cigarettes and barbecues are extinguished properly, and that glass bottles are disposed of carefully.”

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