The United Kingdom is facing a growing wildfire crisis, worsened by climate change, according to a report released by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU). The report raises concerns about the nation’s readiness to combat increasingly frequent wildfires.
The FBU report highlights the vulnerability of the UK to wildfires in the wake of rising climate change-induced fire risks. According to the United Nations climate body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change made extreme weather conditions conducive to wildfires more likely. The extreme heat, such as the summer of 2022, dried out the ground and vegetation, creating the perfect conditions for wildfires to ignite and spread.
Government data reveals a 72% surge in wildfires in the UK, with over 44,000 cases recorded last year. Union leaders, including FBU’s General Secretary, Matt Wrack, criticise the government and the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) for failing to establish a comprehensive national strategy to combat wildfires.
They argue that the current approach is inadequate to address the growing threat.
The FBU’s report revealed that understaffing issues have forced fire services to leave fire engines unused in stations, leading to off-duty staff working extra shifts to combat recent wildfires. This resulted in exhaustion among firefighters on the frontlines. The FBU estimates that approximately 12,000 firefighter positions have been eliminated since 2010.
Matt Wrack stresses the urgent need for climate action and emphasises the importance of substantial investment in the fire and rescue service. Among the key recommendations, the FBU calls for an increase in the number of firefighters to address the growing wildfire threat effectively.
Alongside the call to increase the number of firefighters, the FBU also emphasised the need for better equipment and training for firefighters.
The report underscored that wildfires encroach into the urban-rural interface, where rural landscapes intersect with residential areas. This raises concerns about the safety of both rural and urban communities.
On or around 19 July 2022, approximately 95 buildings were destroyed, including 16 homes in Wennington, located in the London borough of Havering, due to wildfires.
A major incident review made public highlighted that firefighter shortages resulted in 39 fire engines being unavailable to respond to wildfires in London on that specific day.
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