Fire Awareness

Heath Fires – how to avoid them

Firefighters from Surrey Fire and Rescue Service attended 4,300 heath fires in the last three years and an alarming 40 percent of these incidents were started deliberately.

What are heath fires?

A heath fire is any fire that occurs on grassland, parks or farmland and amongst trees, bushes and undergrowth. Heath fires are at their most devastating during periods of hot and sunny weather when the grass, undergrowth or common area becomes dry.

What are the risks and causes?

Fires of this kind can be triggered by various causes such as carelessly discarded cigarettes, rubbish thrown on the area, uncontrolled barbeques and bonfires, and by children who deliberately start fires, particularly during school holiday periods.

The consequences

As well as the potentially fatal consequences to human life, the many areas of beauty across the county and wildlife are threatened by such incidents. Many animals are unable to escape from fire and will be burnt, birds can fly away but nests and eggs that are left behind are destroyed.

Leisure activities such as camping and caravanning can also be threatened by a fire of this kind, especially as the speed at which a fire can travel through gorse and dry undergrowth is astounding.

Everyone can help to reduce the risk of fire so that Surrey’s countryside remains safe, particularly by taking care during the dry summer months.

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How to avoid the onset of fire in the countryside

In order to safeguard human life, the areas of natural beauty across Surrey and the wildlife that inhabit them, firefighters are urging the public to help them to prevent these devastating fires occurring by following this preventative advice:

Smoking – if out walking or having a picnic, be sure to dispose of cigarettes and other smoking materials carefully and ensure that they are fully extinguished.

Barbeques – on most heathlands, it is actually illegal to light any fire, including barbeques, without the permission of the landowner.

Litter – please take your litter home with you. Even a discarded glass bottle can start a fire.

Young People – a growing number of young people are deliberately starting fires. Please educate children about the devastating consequences of causing fires.

What are Surrey Fire and Rescue doing about fires on heathland?

Arson investigation – Surrey Fire and Rescue is well aware of the growing number of arson incidents across the county and particularly on heathland.
Following a great deal of work already carried out by the existing Fire Investigation and Arson Reduction team, recent government funding has enabled the establishment of a dedicated ‘Arson Task Force’.

What to do if a fire does break out in the countryside

  • Call the Fire Service without delay

  • Keep well away from the fire – heathland fires can spread fast

  • Only attempt to put it out if you are certain it is safe to do so

  • School security
  • Prepare to evacuate livestock if necessary

  • Prepare to use farm machinery to assist the Fire Service

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Surrey County Council
working in partnership
Surrey Countryside Management