Every year, Firefighters across Wales are mobilised to tackle a large number of grass fires and mountain fires that put lives at risk, scar the countryside across Wales, and costs the taxpayer millions of pounds.
The fires, many of which are started deliberately, traditionally take place in the lead up to and over the Spring period, in the advent of the warmer, drier weather and the Easter school holidays.
Dewi Jones, Head of Fire Crime, South Wales Fire and Rescue Service condemned deliberate grass fire setting, and said; “South Wales Fire and Rescue Service (SWFRS) is working with our colleagues in Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, the Police and our other partners to crack down on those who deliberately set fires to the grass and mountains. Anyone thinking about deliberately setting fire to the mountainside needs to realise that we will pull out all the stops to ensure that they are caught and could face prosecution”.
He continued “The people responsible for starting these fires need to understand that the fires severely damage much of the countryside surrounding their communities and they are putting lives in danger as it can take us a few minutes longer to respond to incidents in the towns and villages of South and Mid and West Wales if we are on top of a mountain tackling a forest fire”.
Chairman, South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, Cllr Tudor Davies said “Deliberate grass fires are dangerous and unpredictable, and can quickly spread out of control. Firefighters battle against them under arduous conditions, with fires spreading across difficult and sometimes inaccessible terrain – they must stop.”
Huw Jakeway, Chief Fire Officer, South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, said; “The Easter holiday period traditionally sees the number of deliberately set grass and mountain soar and results in South Wales’ fire crews being stretched to breaking point. Annually, South Wales Fire and Rescue Service makes special preparations for potential spate conditions and this year, the Service is hoping that once again the diversionary and enforcement activities they have in place via ‘Operation Wildfire 2014’ will reduce the number of deliberately set grass fires and ease the burden on the hundreds of Firefighters that may have to be mobilised to the valleys over the coming weeks”.
“Tackling the issues of deliberate grass fires is as much about prevention, education and enforcement as it is about new operational equipment and tactics. We have been and will continue to work closely with the Forestry Commission Wales, National Parks, Brecon Beacons National Park, Countryside Council for Wales and our partner agencies to address the underlying issues of anti social behaviour that result in the devastation of the environment. We are very keen to involve the local people in stopping the blight of deliberate grass fires, it has a negative impact to the communities, to the taxpayer and to the environment, and it has to stop”.
As part of their commitment to tackle these fires, and improve operational response South Wales Fire and Rescue Service will implement Operation Wildfire 2014 - this consists of three strands: Operation Wildfire, the ‘Bernie’ Project and Controlled Burning.
Dewi Jones, Head of Fire Crime Unit, South Wales Fire and Rescue Service and leading on project Bernie said “Project Bernie will deliver many messages, initiatives and diversionary activities throughout the Easter Holidays with the aim of reducing deliberate grass fires in local communities will take place. These messages and activities will take place in the unitary authorities that historically suffer from the highest number of deliberate grass and mountain fires”.
“We would also ask people to report anyone they see deliberately lighting fires, or suspect of starting fires, by calling their local police station or those living in South Wales can telephone the Fire Crime Unit on 0800 7317287..”
Some grass fires occur as result of fires that have been started with good intent by land owners but have got out of control because they have not been managed correctly.
Dewi Jones explains; “Where land owners wish to undertake controlled burning of their own open land as part of their own land management plan, a code of practice exists within the Heather and grass burning code and we are keen to work with landowners beforehand to ensure that we are aware that the controlled burning will be taking place and can provide landowners with safety advice and guidance”.
As a result, South Wales and Mid and West Fire and Rescue Service will also be educating land owners about safe controlled burning.