Moorland fires and the Met Office Fire Severity Index

June 2008

Moorland fires and the Met Office Fire Severity Index
Moorland Fire on Great Hill, Withnell Moor, Lancashire
Photo: Paul Darbyshire

Recent weeks have seen fires on moors near Ilkley and Ripponden in Yorkshire, Darwen in Lancashire and Edale Moor in Derbyshire and a number of other locations in the UK

Fire can be a devastating event on moorland. Not only is there the immediate risk to people, property and wildlife but also the effects on the natural environment can be dramatic

Vegetation may take a long time to re-appear and these changes to the habitat of birds and other wildlife may have an extreme impact on the ecological balance of the area. It's not unknown for habitats to take many, many years to recover

Fires can be started in a variety of ways.

In relatively few cases in the UK, they have a natural cause - for example a lightening strike which was apparently the trigger for a recent fire on Grisedale Pike in the Lake District. /p>

Quite incomprehensibly, a small number of moorland fires are actually started deliberately as was allegedly the case in the fire recently on Slieve Donard in Northern Ireland

More often than not though, a fire starts accidentally by a carelessly discarded cigarette or a camp-fire or barbecue that gets out of control

The risk of fire in any particular area is determined by a combination of the ground and weather conditions. The UK Met Office has developed a Fire Severity Index for England and Wales. Developed as a tool to manage the access provided by CRoW, it provides an assessment of the current day's fire severity and a forecast of the fire severity for the next 5 days

The fire severity assessment uses information such as wind speed, temperature and rainfall. The severity of the fire risk is rated as follows:

1. = very low fire severity

2. = low fire severity

3. = moderate fire severity

4. = high fire severity

5. = exceptional fire severity

This information is displayed on 10km x 10km map squares covering the whole of England which are updated daily

You can check on the fire risk of the area you plan to walk using place name, post code, grid reference, OS reference, county or county area here:

Fire prevention restrictions are applied during exceptional conditions ie when the fire risk is rated at level 5. This means usually that access to land covered by CRoW will be withdrawn. However these access restrictions do not apply to public footpaths and bridleways that cross the land in question

In any case, walkers are urged to be particularly vigilant on the fells during any periods of warm, dry weather

If you are smoking you're asked to be really sure that a cigarette has been extinguished properly. In fact, it's advisable to take the butt home

Don't light fires at all in areas designated as high risk

If you do see a fire, get yourself out of any danger (fire can spread incredibly quickly - see Paul Darbyshire's - Did someone say Fire?) then call 999 and alert the emergency services.


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