WITH Britain basking in warmer weather conditions than usual, a negative side to the hotter climates has been the reports of wildfires spreading like wildfire.

Such has been the increase in severe incidents across the country, linked largely to climate change, the chairman of the England and Wales Wildfire Forum, Simon Thorp, has written to the Home Office and Defra to demand more support to tackle such cases.

It was reported that, between 2009 and 2017, more than 250,000 wildfire incidents were dealt with by fire and rescue services throughout England, while the area of land in the UK affected by wildfire last year was the third largest in the EU.

The trend has hit Northumberland with more wildfires reported than ever before. Despite being the smallest fire and rescue service in the UK, however, the county is leading the fight against wildfires.

A total of five wildfire tactical advisors are based in Northumberland, and they deliver specialist training to firefighters in the service on an annual basis.

A multi-agency group, Northumberland Fire Group, made up of a number of private and public sector organisations, including the Ministry of Defence, mountain rescue teams and landowners, meets twice a year specifically on the topic.

Rob Stacey, wildfire team leader and project officer at Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service, said: “We are one of the leading services for wildfire, and the improvements and developments that have happened in the UK over the last 10 years have been driven by us or we have had a hand in.

“It’s a key part of our business because these fires are resource intensive and they take a lot of firefighters to deal with them, and they can be there for a long amount of time on top of their other duties. It’s crucial work and that’s why we carry out annual training.”

Last year was a particularly busy year for Northumberland’s firefighters while the country enjoyed prolonged summer weather, with a fire at Otterburn Ranges proving significantly tricky. Starting at the end of July, the fire was not fully extinguished until the beginning of August.

Mr Stacey said: “We have found that the increased number of wildfires is very much linked to the weather conditions. We will go through the odd year when it’s been a bit damp but when the weather is conducive and supportive to spreading fires, there is an increase in not only the number of incidents but also the severity in the difficulty to control them.

“Last year was a case in point because it was a wet spring and we didn’t get any instances at all. From May throughout October, however, there was a large increase in reports on previous years.

“With the mild weather we have had already, we are expecting another increase this year.”

There are a number of causes of wildfires with the most common in Northumberland being controlled burning by landowners getting out of hand, people not extinguishing barbecues property and the occasional case of arson. In a rare incident last year, fire crews were called to a fire in the Cheviots caused by a lightning strike.

To be classified as a wildfire, a fire has to meet one or more of the following criteria:

l covering at least one hectare of land;

l flame lengths more than one-and-a-half metres;

l at least four fire appliances attended;

l crews are there for six hours or more;

l there is serious threat to life, property or environment.