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Be wildfire aware

Many of you saw the severity of the Australian wildfire disaster in 2019. Did you know that we also have wildfires in the UK? We want to keep you and our countryside safe from the dangers of wildfires and fires in the open.

Here you’ll find information to:

  • learn about wildfires
  • know what to do if you come across one
  • prevent wildfires from happening.

What is a wildfire?

A wildfire is an uncontrolled fire across a large expanse of countryside. Wildfires can start in areas such as:

  • heathland or moorland
  • rail embankments
  • fields
  • woodlands.

In 2020 we attended 1,654 fires in the open countryside across Devon and Somerset.

Why are they dangerous?

Wildfires damage eco-systems, wildlife and animals and, occasionally destroy buildings and property. Wildfires can spread over vast areas. For this reason, wildfires are some of the biggest fires we attend.

How do they start?

Wildfires can start with a natural occurrence - such as a lightning strike - or a human-made spark. Only 10-15% of wildfires happen on their own in nature. Most are started by human actions such as:

  • camp fires
  • barbecues
  • bonfires
  • discarded cigarettes
  • catalytic converters on cars
  • sparks from farm machinery
  • glass bottles left on the ground in dry areas sparking fire with the sun’s glare
  • prescribed burning that gets out of control
  • arson and,
  • plain carelessness.

It is often the weather conditions that determine how much a wildfire spreads. Wind, high temperatures and low rainfall can all leave trees, shrubs, fallen leaves and grass, dry and primed to fuel a fire.

Find out the current wildfire risk in your area (based on weather conditions) using the Met Office Fire Severity Index.

What to do if you see a wildfire

If you are outside:

  • Stay calm
  • Ensure you are in a safe location (away from vegetation and smoke). If you are in your car, close all windows and vents
  • Call 999 and inform us of your location – you can use the What3Words app.

If you are at home:

  • Stay calm
  • Put yourself in a place of safety. Do not try to put out the fire yourself
  • Keep doors and windows closed, but unlocked
  • Call 999 and inform us of your location.

How you can prevent wildfires

  • Take your litter home
  • Don't throw cigarette ends on the ground or out of car windows
  • Glass in direct sunlight can cause fires - ensure there is none lying around
  • Don’t have camp fires and bbqs in the countryside. Only have them in safe designated areas.

How does the Service stop or put out a wildfire?

A small wildfire can be extinguished by firefighters using hand tools such as a fire beater.

Larger wildfires can take a heavy strain on fire resources, are hard to reach and often take many hours (or even days) to put out completely. We use all-terrain vehicles (providing easy access to hard to reach areas), specialist equipment such as water pumps, bowsers and helicopters. We often work with partners such as the police (for arson related wildfires), national parks, local farmers and land owners, and local search and rescue services.

What is the worst wildfire we’ve had in Devon and Somerset?

We’ve had many significant wildfires over the years. All wildfires present different problems and challenges to the fire service - often due to the conditions and accessibility.

A recent wildfire in Kingswear, South Devon destroyed two and a half square kilometres of costal woodland and took just under 70 hours and 1,254 personnel hours to put out. The fire took place on a cliff top and was started by a disposable barbecue.

This fire took 48 fire engines, 15 special appliances (including three water jets, a helicopter providing water from the air, a fog spike, fogging unit, light portable pump, various beaters and small tools).


All our safety information can be made available in other languages. Please contact 0800 050 2999 to request a copy.

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