Accidental summer fires are potentially the single biggest threat to the fragile ecosystem of the Peak District moors. Since 1976 there have been over 350 reported incidents of 'wildfires' of which the majority are commonly started by arson, discarded cigarettes, barbeques and campfires.
Fire fighting strategy
The records show that a number of moorland fires occur every year, some of which have been serious and lasting for several days. It was therefore considered important to improve the fire fighting provisions and the communications between those involved.
To co-ordinate fire fighting resources, a group was formed to provide information on the location of personnel, water supplies, routes for access to moorland and provision of fire fighting equipment. This group, known as the Fire Operations Group, (FOG) is made up of Fire Service officers and those actively involved in fire-fighting including gamekeepers, National Park Rangers, National Trust wardens, water companies and a local helicopter company.
The work of this group has resulted in a number of improvements. A commonality of equipment and of radio communication has been set up and Fire Plans have been prepared for all the moorland areas recording details of the locations of access points, water supplies, personnel and equipment available.
Many Fire and Rescue Services have a dedicated trailer containing specialist equipment which is located at a strategic point. The National Park Authority and other landowners have made All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) available for transport of equipment to the sites of remote fires.
Fire training exercises are regularly arranged to test the fire-fighting strategy, fire plans and equipment. These exercises have involved all the personnel who are likely to be involved in the event of a moorland fire.
How everyone can help
The involvement of the public is a vital factor in preventing the damage which moorland fires can cause. Early reporting of a fire is essential and anyone seeing a fire should dial 999 to notify the Fire Service.
Walkers can act as a useful fire watch and give early notice of the danger particularly if carrying a mobile phone. Accurate information on the location with map reference or bearing can save precious time.
People travelling by car can also keep watch and report smoke or fires in a similar way.
The peat moorlands in the Peak District, and indeed elsewhere, are a very fragile, valuable and easily damaged resource. The Fire Service and other fire-fighters will always be extremely grateful for any help which the walking or climbing public can give.
Information and education
From the outset it was decided that publicity should be made available to the general public giving warning of the danger of moorland fires, its causes and consequences. Leaflets and posters were designed and produced and made available at many points throughout the area including Tourist Information Centres, camp sites, Youth Hostels and other locations.
Posters are displayed at moorland access points and other places where they might be most effective.
The message that has been publicised is in four parts:
- The extreme vulnerability of the moorland in dry conditions.
- The most likely causes of fire, particularly smoking and the use of matches.
- The severe environmental damage to moorland caused by fire.
- An appeal for help in preventing and reporting fires.
The closure of moorland areas in the Peak District National Park, which the public have access to under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (2000) (CRoW), is undertaken by the Peak District National Park Authority. In its role as the Access Authority we have responsibility for the management of the CRoW access land and closure will only be undertaken in extreme circumstances, with appropriate notices displayed at access points.
It should be borne in mind that it is only possible for the Authority to close the access land whilst public rights of way remain open. There is a contradiction evident in this situation but notice of closure provides a clear warning on the fire risk in the area.
The question of whether the moorland should be closed is determined by the Met Office 'Fire Severity Index'. This index takes into account the condition of the moors and the weather conditions on a scale of one to five. When five is reached, the right of access to open moorland is suspended for a period of five days.
More information on Fire Severity Index.