Visitors to Wanstead Flats in north east London enjoy the hot weather, Monday August 8 2022

Fire warning for UK as heatwave builds in tinder-dry conditions

Image credit: PA Images/Stefan Rousseau

Households are being urged not to light fires and retailers to ban sales of disposable barbecues as England faces another heatwave in already tinder-dry conditions.

Temperatures are set to rise to the mid 30°Cs in parts of southern England as high pressure brings more hot, dry weather, following months of low rainfall which have left the country facing the spectre of drought.

The conditions have left the countryside, as well as urban parks and gardens, extremely dry, raising the risk of more devastating wildfires, with rivers, groundwater and reservoirs at low levels.

Two water companies have already announced hosepipe bans and others have warned they may need to follow suit, with apparently no immediate let-up in the dry, hot weather for southern parts of the country.

Essex County Fire and Rescue Service is urging people not to light barbecues or bonfires, or let off fireworks or sky lanterns, after a large fire which damaged gardens, sheds and trees was started by a chiminea.

Area manager Neil Fenwick said: “While summer weather usually provides the perfect opportunity to host a barbecue or gather around a chiminea in the evening, we’re strongly discouraging people from having any kinds of fires at the moment.

“The ground across Essex is extremely dry allowing fires to spread easily and quickly. This is true for gardens as well as fields and heathland. 

“Please help us to help you. Please don’t have barbecues or bonfires. Please don’t use fireworks or set off sky lanterns.”

A dried up lake in Wanstead Park, north east London today

Image credit: PA Images/Stefan Rousseau

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA), which represents 28,000 farmers and landowners in England and Wales, has demanded retailers follow the lead of Marks and Spencer and ban the sale of disposable barbecues across the UK this summer.

The organisation’s president, Mark Tufnell, said: “The CLA is demanding that retailers immediately ban the sale of disposable barbecues across the UK this summer in a move to curb fires spreading in the countryside which cause great damage to rural communities and businesses and jeopardise the safety of all those in the surrounding areas.

“During this period of prolonged lack of rainfall, record temperatures during heatwaves and wildfires damaging the countryside, policies such as this which can mitigate potential further fire damage are sensible and necessary.

“We warmly welcome people to the countryside as they seek to enjoy the glorious weather, but we ask them to help us protect farmland and natural habitats by not lighting barbecues, fires, and other potentially hazardous materials such as sky lanterns.”

The calls come as the Met Office is forecasting another week of sweltering weather for some parts, although the UK is not expected to see the record-breaking temperatures of July’s heatwave, where thermometers topped 40°C for the first time.

Met Office spokesperson Grahame Madge said: “We’re expecting the heat to build toward the end of the week, and expecting temperatures of 34°C or 35°C across parts of southern England. After that, the heatwave will start to subside.”

He said the heat was caused by an area of low-pressure building from the west, but it would be slipping away eastwards by the end of this week, bringing fresher conditions. However, it is not yet clear from the forecasts whether there would be any “meaningful” rain to relieve dry areas next week, Madge added.

Low rainfall in July has left river flows in central, southern, and eastern England, and eastern Scotland, below normal, with many seeing “exceptionally” low levels of water flowing in them, according to the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UKCEH).

Rain in northwest Britain over the last week or so has meant that river flows are in the normal range or above normal and even exceptionally high in the case of Cumbria.

Lucy Barker, a hydrological analyst at UKCEH, said: “Current forecasts suggest that dry and warm weather will continue for southern Britain through the first half of August, and hydrological forecasts suggest below normal river flows in southern Britain are likely to persist over the next few months, with exceptionally low flows likely in many catchments.

“Groundwater levels and reservoir stocks are likely to continue to decline in these areas. We would expect to see continued impacts on agriculture and the environment in addition to further pressures on water supplies, with the possibility of further restrictions.”

Last month, as the UK sweltered under record-breaking high temperatures, advisors called for government action on overheating in homes in order to prevent an increase in heat-related deaths. Scientists warned that heat-related deaths could triple if mitigating cooling action is not taken regarding the design and materials used in houses and flats.

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