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UK “woefully underprepared” to face increasing threat of wildfires

02 October 2023

A NEW report into wildfire resilience, published by the Fire Brigades Union, uncovers a “dangerous” lack of UK-wide strategy, planning and investment. The report reveals the extent of the fragmentation and under-resourcing of Fire and Rescue Services.

Along with a lack of national standards or plans, the situation has already resulted in firefighters being stretched beyond their limits at incidents. That’s according to reports of between 2011 and 2022. During the last decade, almost 12,000 firefighter jobs have been cut, while the risk posed by wildfires has increased, in turn impacting UK-wide resilience.

None of England’s Fire and Rescue National Frameworks have referred explicitly to the risk of wildfires, despite the latter having been listed as a threat to national security on the National Risk Register since 2013.

According to the Fire Brigades Union, the research has found that wildfire preparation remains a ‘postcode lottery’, with no statutory obligation for including the risk in local strategies.

Taken as a warning

Publication of the Fire Brigades Union’s report follows the hottest June on record in the UK and record-breaking September temperatures. The Trade Union argues that devastating wildfires across Europe this summer must be taken as a warning to prepare for rising temperatures over the coming years.

Further, the Trade Union is calling for a UK-wide strategy and standards to prepare for wildfires, a statutory duty on the Government and Fire and Rescue Authorities to prepare for them, further central Government investment in the Fire and Rescue Service and funding for necessary wildfire training and PPE.

Pushed to breaking point

Matt Wrack, general secretary at the Fire Brigades Union, commented: “As the climate changes, global temperatures are fuelling increasingly devastating wildfires. Understaffing and cuts mean that the Fire and Rescue Service is woefully under-prepared for the task ahead. Firefighters are already being pushed to breaking point in responding to wildfires across the UK.”

Wrack continued: “These fires have been on the National Risk Register for a decade now. We need a resilient expanded Fire and Rescue Service to ensure that firefighters can respond to this threat. Instead of improvements, we’ve had austerity and fragmentation and a ‘postcode lottery’ approach towards wildfire response. In order to protect communities everywhere, we urgently need UK-wide standards, a coherent strategy and significant investment.”