Fire officer attends training as service invests in new wildfire equipment

Specialist wildfire training has been given to a fire officer in West Yorkshire, in a bid to reduce the number of incidents this summer.

A cornfield fire in the summer of 2022 in West Yorkshire

Richard Hawley from West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS) went to Spain recently with a team from the UK.


The intensive week of training looked at how burning vegetation in a controlled way can actually be used as a tool to tackle fast-moving wildfires.


Richard, who is temporary group manager and WYFRS’s lead wildfire officer, spent the week in Tivissa, a small town in the Catalan mountains.


He said: “This was a fantastic chance to learn from some of the best in the world when it comes to wildfires, and put theoretical knowledge into practice. Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) sent over a team of firefighters for burns training, where we learnt how fire can be used as a tool.


“By burning vegetation, you take the fuel away from the oncoming fire. It’s a tactic that’s within National guidance and used routinely around the world – this week allowed us to see experts share their knowledge to limit wildfire development.


“We are also looking to see if some international firefighting tactics can be implemented at WYFRS so we are well prepared to respond if we see a repeat of last summer when the county was hugely affected by wildfires.


“The challenges we faced last summer have led to the service investing in additional equipment to deal with wildfires. We will soon be getting two new all-terrain vehicles and additional PPE for wildfire crews and our non-specialist firefighters. We are committed to improving our wildfire provision and it was decided after last year that we needed this additional equipment.”


On Saturday just before 5pm a wildfire at Blake Lea Lane, Marsden, Huddersfield saw one square kilometre of moorland up in flames. Crews from Slaithwaite, Dewsbury, Halifax, Skelmanthorpe, Huddersfield and Todmorden attended as well as a wildfire unit and they used blowers and beaters to extinguish the flames before leaving the incident at 7.45pm. Further investigations of the fire have not been conclusive.


Figures show that crews in England dealt with nearly 25,000 vegetation fires in summer last year – the highest in at least a decade. Across the country there were almost four times the number of fires in 2022 compared to summer the previous year and some services tackled more than 50 fires a day at the peak of the heatwaves, which reached a record-breaking 40C.


WYFRS attended more than four times the number of wildfires last year compared to in 2021. At least 24,316 vegetation fires were recorded by fire services in England from June to August, according to data obtained by the PA news agency through freedom of information requests.


Fire services that saw high spikes in daily fires include West Yorkshire, which recorded 68 on July 18 and 65 on July 19.


T/GM Hawley said: “Wildfires develop very quickly and take hold faster than people can run – they can be started by a carelessly used BBQ or even broken glass. By embracing the latest tactics we should be able to stop them in their path and hopefully see a lot less destruction this summer.”


Recently WYFRS launched their #BeMoorAware campaign, which aims to prevent wildfires and reduce the impact on communities, businesses and the environment.


The service teamed up with West Yorkshire Police, Bradford City Council and Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) Officers for the event on Ilkley Moor where WYFRS’ Wildfire team from Keighley spoke with the public, asking them about their awareness of PSPOs and advising them on how to prevent wildfires.


Advice on helping to prevent wildfires include:

•         Clear up and take your rubbish home after picnics.

•         Observe all signs and notices – they are there for a reason.

•         Follow the National Trust Countryside Code.

•         Don’t leave glass bottles. Not only can they hurt people and animals, but they  can magnify the sun’s rays and start a fire.

•         Never throw lighted cigarette ends onto the ground, or out of the window of vehicles. Always ensure that they are completely extinguished and disposed of responsibly.

•         Never be tempted to light a fire in the countryside.

•         If you see a fire, or someone using a BBQ on the moorland, call 999 and ask for Fire Service.