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'Thoughtless behaviour' warning as extreme wildfire risk sparks heartfelt plea from Forestry and Land Scotland boss


By Hector MacKenzie

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Forests are highly vulnerable at a time when the wildfire risk is deemed to be extremely high.Picture: Heli-services
Forests are highly vulnerable at a time when the wildfire risk is deemed to be extremely high.Picture: Heli-services

A PLEA has gone out to day to members of the public to be ultra cautious to follow guidance when out and about because of the "extreme" wildfire risk.

Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) is urging people to observe wildfire prevention guidance to avoid putting the emergency services under unnecessary pressure.

The call comes as the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service tackles a spate of wildfires – including ten over the last two weeks on land managed by FLS.

Simon Hodgson, chief executive of Forestry and Land Scotland, said: "These avoidable incidents, which are often the result of irresponsible, thoughtless behaviour, are drawing emergency services into situations often for considerable periods of time.

“On every occasion SFRS responders have done an outstanding job. I would also like to commend all of my FLS colleagues for their contributions to the coordinated effort to control those wildfires.

“We would strongly urge everyone to follow current government and NHS advice, stay local and only visit a forest that they can get to on foot, by cycling or by wheelchair.

“And when you arrive please be extra vigilant and do not carry out any activity that might risk starting a wildfire. Helping to prevent wildfires also prevents undue demands being made on our blue light services – and could also save lives.”

One incident in the north east of Scotland burned ground vegetation over an area equal to ten times the size of a football pitch and required the deployment of nine SFRS vehicles and over 60 fire fighters for approximately six hours.

During these incidents, FLS plays an integral role in co-ordinating support to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) by imparting local knowledge, and arranging helicopter support where appropriate. The teams have been particularly successful with the added challenges of COVID-19.

Bruce Farquharson, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Area Commander and chairman of the Scottish Wildfire Forum, said: “Fires in areas of countryside and woodland have the potential to spread quickly, and traditionally this is a period when we see a high volume of large wildfires in Scotland.

“This is clearly an unprecedented time for the country, and a challenging period for the emergency services.Wildfires can draw huge resources, and while we continue to maintain a high resilience across Scotland, we would seek to avoid any unnecessary demand on our service.

“While social distancing rules should continue to see a reduction in the number of people in the countryside, the threat of wildfire undoubtedly remains.

“Human behaviour can significantly lower the chance of grass and woodland fires starting, so it is crucial that people act safely and responsibly in rural environments, and always follow the countryside code.”

When helicopter support is required for firefighting, FLS can call on Heli-lift Services to assist. Working as part of a co-ordinated team effort, helicopter support can get to areas or sections of the fire line that the fire service would have difficulty getting to and so help bring fires under control as quickly and safely as possible.

Pilot, Andrew Hutchinson, said: “This is generally a pretty busy time of year for us when it comes to fires support and we’ve attended two fires for FLS this week.

“Working as part of a co-ordinated team effort, we can get to areas or sections of the fire line that the fire service would have difficulty getting to and so help bring fires under control as quickly and safely as possible.

“As with everyone else, we would much rather that these incidents did not happen and that all the resources put in to dealing with wildfires could be put to other uses.”

Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) has a duty to manage land in its care in a way that supports and enables economically sustainable forestry; conserves and enhances the environment; delivers benefits for people and nature; and supports Scottish Ministers in their stewardship of Scotland's national forests and land.

Related: Local heroes hailed after Ross-shire wildfire

Gamekeepers' role in assisting firefighters is 'not going unnoticed'



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