Further risk of wildfires in woodlands across Wiltshire has been assessed as extreme by fire services.

Over a week after firefighters started tackling a blaze affecting 220 hectares of Wareham Forest,, Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue has issued a strong warning that ‘worse could yet happen if people ignore safety warnings’.

The recent dry weather, combined with more hot days and steady winds forecast, have created a ‘perfect storm’ of conditions for wildfires to take hold. Alongside this, the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions has seen an increase in people getting out into the countryside.

Assistant chief fire officer, Byron Standen said: “We do understand that people want to enjoy the good weather while it lasts but it is vital that everyone takes sensible precautions while the ground and foliage is so dry – the destruction of Wareham Forest shows what can happen.

“We are asking people to do things a little bit differently while the risk is so high. Please do not take a barbecue or have a campfire, maybe take a picnic instead. Just a moment’s thought could prevent a serious fire.

“People living around heath and woodland should avoid having bonfires and those carrying out land management works should make sure that none of the machinery in use will emit sparks.

“As a Service, we cannot afford to have more incidents like Wareham Forest, which has involved firefighters from every one of our 50 fire stations.

“As a community, we cannot afford to lose any more of our natural habitat. We can only achieve this if everyone plays their part.”

Wildfires can start for a number of reasons including deliberate fire setting, littering of items like cigarettes and barbecues, campfires and bonfires being left unattended, sparks from vehicles or machinery and cars being parked on verges and the heat from catalytic converters igniting grass.

In light of the ‘extreme’ wildfire warnings in place, the Fire and Rescue Service wants residents and visitors alike to protect local heath and woodlands by not having any form of barbecue or outside fire whilst enjoying the countryside.

The Service will have firefighters and volunteers patrolling heathlands and open spaces over the weekend, and warning signs have been placed on key routes to remind people of the dangers.

If you have concerns about young people setting fires deliberately, the Fire and Rescue Service has a referral scheme called Firesetters to tackle such behaviours. For more information, visit www.dwfire.org.uk/firesetters

There is also information online aimed at very young children, so they understand the implications of heath fires – visit www.dwfire.org.uk/sam’s-sad-day