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Serious concerns over wildfire risks in Bailiwick

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Thursday 11 August 2022

Guernsey's Chief Fire Officer is making a plea to people to take part in a voluntary bonfire ban, to avoid a repeat of the 1976 wildfires which scorched the south coast cliffs.

As the islands continue to experience a very warm summer, and are heading into another particularly hot weekend, conditions are incredibly dry and the Guernsey Fire & Rescue Service has been called to a number of wildfires.

The GFRS has dealt with more than double the number of wildfires, or 'fires out in the open', that it is usually called to during the summer season. The Alderney Voluntary Fire Brigade has also had to tackle a potentially serious bush fire, as has the team in Sark.

Three of these fires have been started by disposable barbeques and five have been started by bonfires. In total there have been 37 fires in the open compared to 17 in 2021.

Fortunately, none of these fires have run out of control, and have all been attended swiftly by the fire services, however it only takes one late report of a fire for serious damage to be caused.

Jon Le Page, Chief Fire Officer, said:

"My message today is simple. I'd ask that people please avoid using disposable barbeques or lighting bonfires when it is this hot and dry.

"Many people have been comparing the excellent summer weather we've been having so far to that of the 1976 heatwave, but many of my previous colleagues from the Fire Services' prevailing memory of that year will be the large-scale and dangerous fire we experienced on the south cliffs. It took years for the environment to recover from the damage. We need to ensure we avoid another situation like that again.

"Guernsey, and the rest of the Bailiwick, is right now as dry as a tinder box, and it only takes one person acting irresponsibly to start a fire that causes very serious damage. We want people to be able to enjoy the summer, as they no doubt will have been in the year to date, but we also want people to keep our islands safe. It only takes one careless bonfire, one badly placed BBQ, or one discarded cigarette butt, and a 999 call that comes a bit too late."

Guernsey's Beach Code states that Beach barbeques can be lit between 5:00pm and midnight on the Island's north and west coast beaches, excluding the Richmond end of Vazon. Controlled fires are also allowed below the hightide mark, and at least 4m away from vegetation.

The island's Places of Recreation Ordinance (1975) outright bans fires or barbeques without written permission on most publicly owned land, including cliff paths, coastal car parks, parks, and more.

Both sets of rules are designed to help protect our island from fires out in the open, which can easily spread very quickly.

Mr Le Page said:

"The island's Beach Code, the PoR Ordinance, and various other sets of rules which apply to the Vale Common and the other islands in the Bailiwick help protect us from wildfires, but we do need people to abide by these rules. I would also like to ask people who are looking to start bonfires or fires on private property to strongly consider waiting until it is not so dry. Even if a fire is started and then put out on private property, when it is this hot, we have known them to smoulder under the ground and reignite somewhere nearby.

"If we all partake in a voluntary bonfire ban, we can minimise the risk to our Bailiwick."

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