An amber wildfire alert for Purbeck has been issued by the fire service for the bank holiday weekend as the first warm and dry spell of the year has raised fears of heath fires breaking out.
Tourists heading for Dorset have been warned not to have barbecues or to throw cigarette ends out of car windows, and fire crews have been put on alert in case the worst should happen.
Several major fires in Wareham Forest have been caused by barbecues
Fires could spread quickly and easily
An amber alert is now in force until Saturday 27th May 2023, but is likely to be extended to cover the whole holiday weekend. The alert means that, should a wildfire be experienced, it could spread quickly and easily due to the dry conditions.
Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service area group manager Graham Kewley said:
“While the warm, dry weather forecast for the coming days is most welcome, especially with the bank holiday and half term, it does significantly increase the risk of wildfire.
“Disposable barbecues left behind while still hot, and campfires that aren’t extinguished properly, are common causes of fires in the open, so we would urge people not to use these while out and about in our beautiful countryside.”
The Studland heath fire of August 2022 devastated a site of special scientific interest
Devastating for the countryside
While it feels like spring has been slow to arrive this year, rainfall for the Swanage area since March 1st 2023 has only been average and warming temperatures through mid-May have brought concerns that heathland is becoming susceptible to fire.
As seen with the major incidents at Stoborough Heath in June 2022 and at Studland in August 2022, such fires take a great deal of resources and time to bring under control and are devastating for the countryside.
Both were believed to have been started by barbecues, despite disposable barbecues and campfires being banned on heathland, in forests and in many other high-risk areas across Dorset, including at Wareham Forest.
Crews from Wareham and Swanage attended dozens of heath fires in 2022
Bring a picnic, not a barbecue
Andy Elliott, Dorset and Wiltshire fire service’s wildfire tactical adviser, said:
“This time of year can be particularly difficult for wildfires. Much of the vegetation is still dead from the winter and it dries out rapidly when the sun starts to warm things up, particularly if there is a drying wind.
“Dealing with wildfires is incredibly resource intensive, and can take days or sometimes even weeks to bring under control. This means they are also costly, and yet they can be prevented if the people enjoying our heaths and woodlands heed the warnings and take care.”
The service has launched a social media campaign urging people to bring picnics to Dorset instead of barbecues, and have issued a four point guide:
- Don’t have barbecues or campfires on the heath or in open spaces as the risk of a fire starting is too great.
- Extinguish cigarettes properly, and never throw cigarette ends on the ground or out of car windows.
- If you see a fire in the countryside, call 999 and report it immediately to the fire and rescue service.
- Landowners and managers should be prepared for fires, and ensure that fire breaks are cut and well maintained, with any cut grass removed from the site.
Despite misleading national headlines of an African style heatwave over England for the end of May, the Met Office said that temperatures in Swanage over the May bank holiday could still be in the low 20s.
Warning signs will appear on beaches this summer
Settled dry and sunny weather for Purbeck
Chief forecaster Neil Armstrong said:
“If you have heard media hyperbole that a heatwave driven by an African plume will bring intense heat to the UK in the next few days you are going to be disappointed – this isn’t true.
“However, if you are looking forward to a spell of largely fine, sunny and warm conditions across the majority of the UK, then you are going to be in luck.
“High pressure will continue to dominate the UK weather through the bank holiday weekend and may continue through next week too, meaning lots of settled weather for the Purbeck area with dry sunny conditions.
“That high pressure will lead to plenty of sunny skies so although we’re not importing heat from Africa temperatures will rise day by day simply because it’s sunnier and the sun is strong at this time of year. It’s homegrown warmth rather than imported heat.”
A sunny May bank holiday is in store for Purbeck
Swanage temperature peaked at 32 degrees
Temperatures will gradually rise through the coming days, with expected highs in Swanage for the bank holiday weekend expected to be around 21 degrees C, possibly rising a little higher by Thursday 1st June, 2023.
The highest temperature in Swanage during 2022 peaked at 32 degrees C on Friday 12th August, while a new record high temperature was set for the UK, of 40.3 degrees C in Lincolnshire.
Scientists say that would have been ‘basically impossible’ without global warming, although meteorologists believe it is very unlikely that there will be a repeat of quite such extreme temperatures in 2023.
Read the Dorset and Wiltshire Fire Service information page on heath fires