Brigade goes the hole way to try to control summer wildfires

Tinder box: two firefighters spent a couple of hours bringing a wildfire at Roundshaw Downs under control last August. The blaze did not encroach on nearby homes

Major incident review found 39 appliances were unavailable because of staff shortages on Brigade’s busiest day for callouts last year

One year on from what is seen as the London Fire Brigade’s busiest day for emergency call-outs since the darkest days (and nights) of the Blitz during the Second World War, and firefighters have revealed a new piece of kit to help them handle wildfires in our parks and open spaces: hoses with holes in…

Last summer’s record-breaking extreme weather saw grass fires and wildfires have a devastating effect on open spaces, including several callouts in and around the Croydon area – in the Addington Hills, Norbury and at Croham Hurst.

There was even a wildfire at Roundshaw Downs, off the Purley Way, on the evening of an Inside Croydon guided walk last August.

In one incident elsewhere in the capital, 16 homes on the edge of Rainham Marshes in Wennington, Havering, were destroyed in one of the worst blazes.

July 19, 2022, was said to be one of the LFB’s “busiest days in the modern firefighting era” with 2,496 calls received – including 740 relating to wildfires – and 26 fires requiring four or more pumping appliances to attend.

On a typical days in the capital, there is usually only two incidents requiring the same level of response. Control officers received around five times as many calls as usual on July 19 last year, with nearly 2,500 calls taken between 8am on July 19 and 6.30am on July 20.

A major incident review said Brigade staff had responded to the “unprecedented demand with bravery, tenacity and determination”, adding, “Without this concerted and coordinated effort there is no doubt the damage to London’s communities would have been much worse.”

But the review also found that 39 appliances were unavailable because of insufficient staff numbers.

The review was published yesterday, in response to a Freedom of Information request by BBC London.

“We know last summer was not a one-off – climate change will continue to give rise to more extreme weather events,” said LFB’s deputy commissioner Dom Ellis.

“That’s why we have reviewed what happened last summer to determine how we can improve and be as best-prepared to tackle this ever-growing risk head-on.”

But Matt Wrack, the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said firefighters were not being given “adequate resources… to do their jobs”.

Spray away: the ‘Holey Hose’ on demonstration yesterday

Since last summer’s fires, the Brigade has devised some new(ish) kit, including lengths of hose with holes in – like a large-scale lawn sprinkler – that can be used to dampen down tinder-dry areas of grass and create a fire break to better protect neighbouring homes and commercial properties.

As well as the garden sprinkler, the new kit also appears to include a giant-sized inflatable kiddies’ paddling pool, in fact a water reservoir for firefighters to use to tackle blazes. The kit was demonstrated at Wanstead Flats yesterday, attended by Fiona Twycross, the deputy mayor for fire and resilience.

A press release from the LFB said, “The Holey Hose is a new tool the Brigade hopes will help restrict the amount of damage caused by these fires. It is a type of fire service hose which has pre-prepared holes that creates a curtain of water reaching up to two metres high.

“When a fire is spreading across land, the hose will be deployed to protect life and property. This hose can be called upon in addition to existing equipment such as traditional firefighting hose and beaters.”

The Brigade is anticipating what it calls “another challenging summer”, and has had all firefighters undergoing “enhanced wildfire response training”.

The Brigade has also introduced 10 wildfire officers and 30 wildfire tactical advisors.

The tactical advisors “will be deployed to support incident commanders at large grass fires and wildfires and will benefit from training in more rural areas of England”, the Brigade says.

“We have also been learning from fire and rescue services in Europe, which have more experience tackling wildfires, which can be large and intense. Weekly strategic forecasting meetings highlight key organisational risks for the following seven days, which includes risk of warm weather and flooding.

“Much of our learning from last summer has been guided by a review that focused on the events of July 19 when temperatures in London exceeded 40 degrees Celsius for the first time. The Brigade anticipates more grass fires and wildfires in the future due to the climate emergency.”

Stretched to the limit: firefighters were praised for their response to the extraordinary demands of July 2022

The Met Office has already confirmed that June 2023 was the hottest June in history, with further heatwaves forecast for July.

“Last summer was an unprecedented period for the Brigade with London experiencing temperatures never seen before,” Ellis said.

“Our firefighters responded to this demand with bravery, tenacity and determination, with colleagues from across the Brigade’s vital support functions helping to maintain our response. Thanks to this co-ordinated effort, there is no doubt the damage to London’s communities would have been much worse.

“But we know last summer was not a one-off – climate change will continue to give rise to more extreme weather events. We’ve already seen one significant grass fire this summer and we have to be ready for more.

“That’s why we have reviewed what happened last summer to determine how we can improve and be as best-prepared to tackle this ever-growing risk head-on.”

The Brigade has continued in its call for an outright ban on disposable barbecues in parks and public open spaces.

Baroness Twycross said, “While the Brigade is ready to respond to emergencies, it’s more important than ever that every Londoner plays their part in preventing fires and keeping our city safe.

“That’s why Mayor Sadiq Khan and I continue to urge everyone to follow the Brigade’s safety messaging and avoid having barbecues in open green spaces or on balconies, making sure rubbish is thrown away safely, not leaving broken bottles or glass on the ground and disposing of cigarettes properly to avoid the risk of fire starting.”

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1 Response to Brigade goes the hole way to try to control summer wildfires

  1. Lewis White says:

    Wild fire is frightening–my own limited experience is of one at Banstead Downs about 20 years back. It spreads quickly. Had it not been for the Fire Brigade, and volunteers, a huge area would have been burned..

    With global warming a reality, in the UK we need to review grass cutting practice in places near buildings, but where long grasses are left uncut until late summer for very valid conservation reasons.

    The truth is, that grass that has been close mown for decades will not magically sprout sheets of rare wild flowers if left uncut. What you get is—long grass without sheets of wild flowers.

    These can be a fire risk, if left beyond the end of June, but it is all case of sensible management.

    If there are landscape managers left after local goverment cut backs, to manage at all, that is.

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