Out of the Ashes : Stories from Lancashire

Episode 2: Igniting conversations about wildfires

July 13, 2023 Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service Season 1 Episode 2
Out of the Ashes : Stories from Lancashire
Episode 2: Igniting conversations about wildfires
Show Notes Transcript

Get ready to listen to our next installment of Out of the Ashes: Stories from Lancashire.

In episode two, join us as we delve deep into the flames that burn over and underground with one of our wildfire experts, Station Manager Rob Harvey. Rob shares his valuable knowledge and first- hand experience of scorching wildfires. We explore how in hot and dry conditions BBQs, campfires and cigarettes can quickly ignite and spread. 

As a fire and rescue service, we are now more prepared than ever before to extinguish wildfires with our recent investments in new equipment and resources but ultimately we want people to understand the risks associated with disposable barbecues and naked flames on any type of open grassland and the extensive damage and devastation they cause.

This time of the year is when we see an increase of calls for moorland and grass fires and with the warm and dry weather set to continue over this summer, we want everyone to take extra care and look after Lancashire. 

And remember if you liked our episode, please like and subscribe and let’s make Lancashire safer together.


[00:00:02.530] - Host

Welcome to Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service's first Podcast series- Out of the Ashes: Stories from Lancashire. In today's podcast, we'll be discussing wildfires with our very own Station Manager, Rob Harvey. 

Wildfires are a serious problem in Lancashire and as a fire service, we have seen an increase in fires on the moorlands and in our countrysides in recent years. Wildfires are easily started and can spread rapidly, putting people, property and infrastructure at risk. In 2022, we attended 120 wildfire incidents. With your help, we can look at reducing that number and the seriousness of wildfires in Lancashire.


[00:00:38.560] - Host

Today I'm speaking to Rob Harvey, which is one of our wildfire experts at Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service. So hi Rob, how are you?


[00:00:46.400] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

Morning. Good, thank you.

 

[00:00:48.430] - Host

So you're our wildfire expert at Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, would you agree with that?


[00:00:54.160] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

I work as part of the wildfire team expert, I'm not so sure, but yeah, part of the wildfire response.


[00:01:00.090] - Host

So, looking at wildfires a little bit more in detail, they're normally started accidentally and can be prevented. What can the public do to look after Lancashire?


[00:01:09.490] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

Yeah, I think it's about raising public awareness. So when members of public are visiting these sites, the upland moorland areas, being aware of the conditions at the time, obviously they tend to go out when it's beautiful conditions, the sun shining, it's dry on the ground, what they're doing can then obviously have that impact. So if they're going out there having these barbecues and campfires which we know cause the fires, is it appropriate at that time, you know is it the right location, et cetera.


[00:01:37.830] - Host

So you mentioned conditions, which conditions make the wildfire risk significantly higher?


[00:01:43.750] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

Yeah. So we look at the weather forecasting, so we're looking at things like wind speed, wind direction, humidity, temperature, all those things. All these variables have an impact in terms of wildfire, but it can be a number of days leading up to it. So if we've had a dry spell, for example, and then suddenly the wind picks up, the dry conditions are already there in the fuel, we're just waiting for the perfect conditions on the day that then lead into these wildfire conditions and increase that severity for us.


[00:02:12.860] - Host

So what should the public do if they see or suspect a wildfire whilst they're out and about?


[00:02:18.570] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

The main thing is, obviously stay safe. If somebody sees a fire, they don't want to put themselves at risk. Get yourselves to a position where you know, you can get yourself away from the fire, sort of upwind downslope of the fire. But if you can get a location for it, that's great for us as a fire service obviously the quite open areas, you know quite exposed moorland areas where we can't get a feature, where we can get a specific location. So if somebody knows the spot where the fire is, if they can use What Three Words, or in a survey grid reference, it's really important to us to get that information. The size of the fire, if they say it's the size of a football pitch, for example, we know it's around a hectare in size, or the flames are the size of a person, we know that it's one and a half metre. And that helps us sort of plan, before we even get there, to the sort of size of the fire that we're going to be dealing with.

 

[00:03:10.700] - Host

So the best thing to do is to describe as accurately as they can where they are and give as many details about the fire to the fire control when they ring.


[00:03:19.270] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

Yeah. I mean, if you can share that information with the control, North West Fire Control, the call handler, but the main thing is they've got to stay safe, not put themselves at risk. Don't try and attempt to put the fire out, get yourself in a position and then obviously come and meet the fire service. So we might not necessarily know where they are in terms of the individual, but if they walk down to the nearest road where we can then meet that individual and they can give us more information than when we arrive.


[00:03:43.580] - Host

Right, okay, that makes sense. Yeah. So when they see the wildfire and they come away, do they just need to get themselves to safety and leave everything that they see? If they are in that circumstance for wildfire,


[00:03:57.790] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

Yeah, I wouldn't encourage people, certainly this summer fires, we're seeing greater severity, intensity with the climate change that we've seen over recent times, so it's not worth putting themselves at risk. They're not going to put the fire out, they're not going to achieve anything, only put themselves in more danger. So primarily they've got to get themselves back down to a position of safety, which ideally for us is at the gateway that we can access the moorland and then give us information where the fire is.


[00:04:23.940] - Host

So you mentioned climate change. Has that increased the amount of wildfires that we're seeing across Lancashire and the intensity.


[00:04:31.990] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

In terms of number of fires? No, we've not seen a massive increase in the number of fires. What we are seeing is greater intensity, you're right there. So when we do have the fires, we're there for longer, they cause us more problems that we're needing to use water for applications, not just on the surface, they're actually subsurface fires.

 

[00:04:49.770] - Host

Right


[00:04:50.090] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

So there's a greater threat to us in terms of a response and requirements in terms of logistics. So we've got to apply a lot of water on there. So we work with our partners at United Utilities. We've bought our own water bowser and Lancashire Fire and Rescue. We've introduced the Hagglund vehicles, which have got 1800 litres of water on each vehicle. So we've got a massive amount of water that we need quickly. And climate change has obviously sort of been part of that in terms of these failures are more severe.


[00:05:25.290] - Host

Turn up the volume, prepare for this song to be played on repeat in your head all week. We want to emphasise the importance of staying focused whilst cooking to avoid any potential disasters. So cook with care or you may end up having us join you for dinner. #StayThereAndCookIt.


[00:05:50.210] - Song

Keep a close eye on me, buddy? You just don't know what I might do? I can be your treat, so tasty, or I could be real bad for you. Stay there and Cook it, or it could ruin your day? You can't ignore or head out the door? Don't you walk away. Don't let your mind go wondering on. Make sure you listen to what I say, Don't put your attention on other things, bring your focus back my way! Stay there and cook it, or it could ruin your day? You can't ignore or head out the door, Don't you walk away.


[00:06:57.110] - Host

So we've touched upon wildfires. We've touched about what maybe can cause them. I know that you mentioned disposable barbecues. What are the risks with disposable barbecues?


[00:07:07.780] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

Yeah, I think it's people not understanding how they cause the fire. People see it as I've got this small sort of 30 centimetre by 30 centimetre tin with a bit of charcoal in it, and if it sets on fire, what I'll do is I'll stamp it out or I'll put the fire, because it's going to be small. 

What tends to happen with barbecues is, that it'll scorch an area where the metal tin has been in contact with the ground. But then it started off a smouldering fire underneath the ground, and people don't realise that, so they'll often leave a sort of a patch of a scorched area of a little square that they've scorched, thinking, oh, it's fine, there's no fire. 

But when conditions change, like I said before, the wind picks up or the temperature or the humidity, things change in a wildfire environment. So in an afternoon, it might be that the sun comes around where it was previously in shade, it could be the humidity level drops or the temperature increases. That might be enough for what is a smouldering fire to turn into a flame and it sets fire to the grass around it.


[00:08:07.320] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

And that's ultimately what usually starts the wildfire, is the people who've had the barbecue might have gone and left the scene, but they've created this smouldering little peat fire that they don't realise is actually smouldering underneath.


[00:08:19.550] - Host

And can wildfires spread really quickly? Because I know a lot of people think that if they see one or it starts, they'll just put it out. But like you say, people don't understand that they can just spread.

 

[00:08:31.290] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

Yeah, absolutely. So as soon as we start to have that flaming, the flames above the ground, it's obviously involving the vegetation, then the grass, the trees, the shrubbery, et cetera, and the wind, and then it moves really quickly. But when the smouldering fire might just be small, but they won't be able to put it out unless they've got a vast amount of water. So they won't be able to put that fire out anyway. So having that barbecue actually starts the process, but they're not going to be able to extinguish it, regardless of what they do. That's why we've had to invest in the Hagglund vehicles, the bowsers, because the fires in the ground need a lot of water.


[00:09:03.180] - Host

So it's not just the fire on the top, it goes underneath and then that's why it spreads so quickly.


[00:09:08.980] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

Yeah, it smoulders. So, like I said, what will happen is you have a small smouldering patch and then the conditions change in the atmosphere, so the weather changes and then it starts to create that fire. And then once it shows on the surface, then it's away. So if we get quite a strong wind, for example, it pushes that fire right across the surface quite quickly. And that's how we end up with our larger wildfires, then.


[00:09:31.100] - Host

Right. So to look after Lancashire, we want people to stop using disposable barbecues on moorlands, grassland, beaches, parks, just anywhere that's open grassland, really, don't we?


[00:09:42.480] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

Yeah, absolutely. And that's the risk. If people are using it inappropriately, then times when we know it's been dry, they're creating these sort of small fires, not realising small smouldering fire. That's the risk, you know. Who not wants to enjoy our beautiful countryside? You know, Lancashire is a fantastic area, but what we have to do is say, well, did you have your barbecue at a designated barbecue area? Did you have it back at the car park, where's there's a designated area, if there is one, or back at home? Go out and enjoy the moorland, go for your walk, enjoy the views, but don't take the barbecues with you, don't. Take a picnic, is what we can promote.


[00:10:17.100] - Host

Pack a Picnic.


[00:10:17.630] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

Absolutely. So remove that sort of heat source away from the moorland area is really key. Certainly in the last few weeks we've had in June, when it was particularly dry, that's a significant risk then.


[00:10:27.950] - Host

Yeah. So we want people to enjoy Lancashire but safely. So pack your favourite picnic items and leave the barbecues at home.


[00:10:35.210] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

Yeah.


[00:10:36.570] - Host

Before, you mentioned Winter Hill. Now it's five years since the Winter Hill incident. Do you want to maybe give the listeners a bit of an insight to the incident if they're not aware of it?


[00:10:47.550] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

Yes. So, like you say, it's five years ago, a massive impact on Lacnashire Fire and Rescue. 41 days that we're fighting the wildfire. Significant amount of resources in terms of we brought in national deployments in, so we have people from London, Fire Brigade, Hertfordshire, Leicestershire, all over the country, because we didn't have the resources to maintain a fire and rescue service for 41 days. Because what we've got to remember is that it's not just about the wildfire, we've also got to maintain cover for people's domestic fires and things like that. We've got a service to provide as well. Winter Hill was significant in terms of there were two fires that merged, creating one large area and the conditions were exactly the same as what we've just had recently in June.


[00:11:33.130] - Host

Right.


[00:11:33.710] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

So, again, people need to be aware that inappropriate use of barbecues, deliberate fire setting can lead to these significant incidents that can be sort of 41 days if the weather's conditions are higher.


[00:11:46.740] - Host

Yeah, you did mention 41 days is a very long time to fight a fire. Just to give the listeners a little bit of a background. It was on the 28 June in 2018, Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service and Greater Manchester were fighting two separate fires near Winter Hill, which is located near Bolton. And this led to a major incident being declared and like Rob said, it lasted six weeks. Like you said, was it a prolonged heat wave and intense conditions?


[00:12:17.810] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

Yeah, not so much a heat wave. The temperatures were sort of like mid 20s. It was warm, but we had no rain and it was what led up to it. So, again, the ground was dry, all the peat, the conditions under the surface were conducive to having a significant wildfire and it was smouldering fires for weeks and basically until it rained. 

And what we had to do is we dug a perimeter with United Utilities and excavators and people using hand tools. We dug a perimeter all the way around Winter Hill, which was around 17 kilometres, to contain the fire. And then ultimately you had to wait till it rained. But our job was to make sure the perimeter, it couldn't spread any further. And then obviously then there's the damage that we've done, then they've got to reinstate that damage, make the condition safe, it's protected areas, it's site of specific scientific interest. So these sites obviously need restoration and maintaining afterwards. So there's a lot of work goes into putting it back how it used to be.


[00:13:16.240] - Host

Goodness, that is very intense. Yeah. So you mentioned new Hagglunds. What vehicles are they? Tell the public a little bit more about our new investment.


[00:13:26.750] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

Yes, following Winter Hill in 2018, we basically launched two Hagglund vehicles. And these are like an Arctic vehicle.


[00:13:37.870] - Host

Right,


[00:13:38.250] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

You'll see them in the Arctic, they're like a tracked vehicle. It'll carry six people. They're a military type vehicle.


[00:13:43.730] - Host

Oh okay,


[00:13:44.200] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

So what we've done in Lancashire is part of the Climate Change Operational Response Plan. We've identified the growing risk, looked at vehicles that not just do wildfire, but also for flooding capability. And these Hagglunds do both, so they're great vehicles. So we bought the two Hagglunds and the low loaders that they transport on. And there's also a back to the Hagglund vehicles, which we can have a fogging system on, which allows us to apply water, but also we can change that for a personnel carrier. So when we get flooding events, we can change it for that as well. So it's not just a, it's climate vehicle rather than just specific to wildfire, but it means that we get into our fires a lot quicker. We've got water, we've got our blowers, we've got our burn team, everything's there being deployed straight away as quickly as we can. And that's the difference. I think we've got in Lancashire that we're very quick to respond and put the right resources into immediate effect.


[00:14:41.100] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

And that's why I don't think we're having larger wildfires, but we're still having the severity,


[00:14:46.450] - Host

Right, yeah. So they sound like a really good investment. Have they been deployed this year?


[00:14:51.470] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

Yeah, so we deployed them a couple of weeks ago when we had the warm spell in early June in Accrington. Really effective. Got up there onto a coppice area. So we had fires in trees and sort of grassland area, and we contained a fire very quickly and effectively. We've not had any of the open moorland fires, but they're just as effective in that in terms of we can get there quickly. And it's another tool in our box. We can get firefighters up onto the moorland and we can deploy them rather than having them walk sort of a mile, a mile and a half, which takes time. These vehicles will do that and get everybody there that we need to as quickly as possible.

[00:15:27.230] - Host

So, as we've discussed, were more, as a fire and rescue service, we're more equipped, we've got the Hagglunds, we've done a lot of training. We've mentioned a specific burn team. Do you want to tell us a little bit more about that?


[00:15:40.880] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

Yeah. So we created one of our units have created that extra skill, the burn skill. So what we identified is that we're having these fires that are more severe, rapidly moving, more intense. The tools we would use in the past, like beaters and these aquapat, like a backpack with water in, they weren't as effective. So we needed to find a new way of fighting the fires. 

So we looked at this Burn skill, which is a continental way of firefighting, and they use it in Spain and Portugal and America, Canada, et cetera. And basically by using fire, what we can do is remove the vegetation where a fire is heading. So following 2018, we introduced the burn skill to a team of Bacup. So one of our wildfire units, and what we've done is we've discussed it with our partners on the continent, so .Pau Costa Foundation We went and did some training with Juan and Carlos Trindade out in Portugal. And we did a lot of training around upskilling ourselves because the continental conditions when we're doing the burn training is more aligned to what we have in our summer fires.


[00:16:50.070] - Host

Right.


[00:16:50.500] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

So when we're having the fires, the conditions are severe. So what we needed to be sure of is that all our burns trained staff have had exposure and are aware of the risks around the fire. So having the training with Pau Costa Foundation, going to see Carlos in Portugal, it just allowed us to make sure that everybody was confident to apply the fire when we needed to, because, like I said, these conditions are in wildfire conditions, so there's a danger to that. 

So we need to make sure our staff are fully confident, capable and equipped to do this. It's proven a fantastic resource. The amount of fires now we can contain quite quickly with using conventional means, but also using the burn skill means, we can contain a fire a lot more rapidly, preventing further damage and the larger scale incidents. And that's what I was saying earlier on that we don't have the large fires now because we've got a better response, but the fire intensity and the severity is still there and that's a risk that we have and that's just part of the climate change. But we are better equipped with what we've got in terms of a response.


[00:17:54.650] - Host

Sounds like a fantastic skill, being able to stop the spread. So it just contains the fire into a smaller area. You've recently been to Poland for training, was that with other fire and rescue services across the UK?


[00:18:09.050] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

It was an international training camp, so there was over 100 candidates from probably 40 countries. So it was worldwide. It was a worldwide training camp. It was on the back of some training we did with Pau Costa last year. Our Polish colleagues were putting on an international, it was themed at forestry training camp. And we are seeing more fires in and around forestry. Now, that's something new in the UK context. In terms of large forestry areas set on fire, we usually have open moorland. Certainly in the North West, where we are in Lancashire, we get lots of moorland fires, but forestry is quite a new experience for us in terms of the risk. 

So the attending that training allows us to upskill a couple of staff around forestry, specific forestry firefighting, how we can approach it, what we can do, and then they will then train our wildfire teams to respond to them far more effectively. But ultimately, it's about safety. If we've got fires in trees, and trees are starting to fall over because the root systems have been burnt away, we need to know about that and we need to understand the dangers and also about what's appropriate in terms of firefighting.


[00:19:17.510] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

So that's the reason why we've done that recent camp, but really good experience, lots of shared learning, lots of experts. Right across the international experts as well, and then we bring that back into the UK and develop it for ourselves.

 


[00:19:31.040] - Host

Sounds like a fantastic experience. Like you say, wildfires are now becoming quite global, aren't they? Like we've seen them in Canada and especially in Europe last year. It does sound like a good skill to bring back. So Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service are more equipped now and more prepared for wildfires than we've ever been. Do you feel very confident in our response to these types of incidents?


[00:19:56.790] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

Yeah, definitely. I think, you know, I have 25 years of experience of firefighting and certainly wildfire firefighting, and I've been up many hills and tried to beat it flat. So where we currently are, yeah, we're more advanced. We've got the right tools in our toolbox, as my mate Craig Hope would say from South Wales. So we've done that, we've developed it, we've spoke to our colleagues, we've spoke to internationally, we've spoke to the experts and said, look, what is it we need to prepare ourselves for? 

But what we need to think about is what it's going to be like in 10, 15 years time? What's going to be the new risks to the firefighters that are coming through, you know when I've retired? What's the next generation of fires look like? Are we going to see what they're seeing in Spain and Portugal now in the UK? Signs are, yeah, we are going to see that increase. So what are we doing in terms of fuel management, land management? Are we engaging with them? Are we making people aware in terms of the urban interface? We saw the fires in Wenningham, Wenningborough last year


[00:20:59.730] - Host

Down in London,


[00:21:00.920] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

So around that sort of South East coast, and we're starting to see fires that are going from grassland and crop fires that are impacting on domestic properties.


[00:21:10.150] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

So we need to be more aware in that urban environment, that wildfire urban interface. And that means making sure our staff are well trained, making sure that our prevention activities are current and key, and that we're educating people that are in that interface. Either they're coming into the area to use it for leisure activities or they live in that environment and we engage with them and sort of develop them relationships to get ready for what's going to probably come in the next 10, 15 years time.


[00:21:37.410] - Host

Another way we've been prepared is our new wildfire kit that we've given to all of our staff. How does that help in a wildfire situation?

 

[00:21:47.490] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

Well, it's lightweight, it's sort of tested, it gives protection from the fire severity and the fire intensity that we face, so there's no compromise on firefighter safety. But what it is is lightweight. So rather than structural firefighting kit, which we used to use, we're now getting a specific kit which allows firefighters to be up there for a little bit longer, which we tend to be. It's hotter, it's drier, you know, the conditions are not good for firefighters to be up there doing that work. So by providing the correct PPE, what we are doing is making sure their welfare is catered for. I say, I went to the Polish Wildfire International Camp and we walked about 16 miles on the Saturday afternoon and it was about 25 degrees in a forestry and it was all in the flame pro firefighting kit. Absolutely fine.


[00:22:37.090] - Host

And if you'd been in the structural one, would you have been too hot? Y


[00:22:41.870] - Host

Yeah, you would have been overeating. So it proved to me that the firefighting kit gives us exactly what we need in terms of staff welfare, it.

[00:22:50.310] - Host

Keeps them a lot safer and more prepared.


[00:22:52.610] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

Yeah, absolutely. And that's the key to it's, about firefighter safety and welfare. And we keep them hydrated, we give them the right PPE, we've given them all the tools in the toolbox now that's appropriate for firefighting, and it puts us in a really strong position for preparing for the future and what we currently face.


[00:23:10.990] - Host

Thank you very much for taking the time today to discuss wildfires with me. What is the one thing you'd hope the listeners take away from this episode today?


[00:23:20.910] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

I think the main thing for me is people understanding the risk. If we've got dry conditions, we all know it's dry, the sun's out, we know it's been dry, we can look at the BBC weather forecast, for example. Don't take the barbecues up there, don't take any sort of naked flames, open campfires, any sort of fires when it's dry, pose a risk, so be aware of that risk. Just simply don't do it in the dry months. And it's about awareness of what is the current climate in the upland areas. And you said before it could be doesn't have to be moorland, it could be sand dunes, people in the sand dunes at Blackpool and Lytham, et cetera. They need to be aware that there's a risk to that. 

Don't put themselves at risk. Go out there and enjoy it. Like I said, Lancashire is a beautiful area. I'm born and bred Lancashire, it's fantastic. Why would you not want to go out and enjoy the moorland? But what we don't want to do is destroy that moorland. And ultimately, if that's what they're doing, if the public go up there and they have the barbecue, they cause the fire, it's a negligent act.


[00:24:21.970] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

And the damage that can be done, we've seen at Winter Hill, we've seen at Darwen Moor, we've seen at Longridge Fell. They don't repair, you know thousands and thousands of years of sort of natural environment that's been built up. We can be destroyed in a day.


[00:24:37.520] - Host

In a matter of seconds.

 

[00:24:38.710] - Station Manager - Rob Harvey

Absolutely, yeah. So it's not worth the risk.


[00:24:41.620] - Host

Well, thank you very much for your discussion and your time. I'll just remind the listeners, never use a campfire or disposable barbecue in the moors, the park, a beach or open grassland. If you see or suspect a wildfire, please always call 999 and report it. Never assume that someone has already.


[00:25:00.920] - Host

If you want to find out more information about wildfires, you can head to our website. It's lancsfirerescue.org.uk/wildfires. The link will be in our episode notes.


[00:25:11.670] - Host

And remember, if you liked our episodes, please like and subscribe and let's make Lancashire safer together.