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Cooler temperatures a welcome relief as fire crews receive unprecedented number of call-outs

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service tackling fires.  Picture: Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service tackling fires. Picture: Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service

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Spells of rain and cooler temperatures are sure to be a welcome relief to firefighters and farmers across the region.

Drone footage of a field fire near the Norfolk/Suffolk border at Elveden. Picture: Suffolk Fire and Rescue ServiceDrone footage of a field fire near the Norfolk/Suffolk border at Elveden. Picture: Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service

A relentless period of close to 30c heat and no rain caused tinderbox conditions and saw a wave of wildfires across farmland, grassy and forestry areas.

Fire control staff were taking a high volume of calls between June and July and whole-time firefighters were working longer hours.

Retained crews were working their normal day jobs before devoting hours in their evenings attending incidents sometimes miles from their home station.

From the start of June to the end of July, Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service (NFRS) attended 452 incidents - 288 of these involved farmland, crops, open landscape and woodland.

MORE - A day in the life of Norfolk Fire and Rescue’s firefighters

Fire crews tackled 261 open fires across Norfolk between January 1 and the middle of July, 76 of which were believed to have been deliberate.

Suffolk Fire and Rescue attended the blaze, off Green Road in Brandon. Picture: Rebecca MurphySuffolk Fire and Rescue attended the blaze, off Green Road in Brandon. Picture: Rebecca Murphy

This compared to 366 for the whole of last year.

In Suffolk, fire crews also faced increased call-outs and working more and longer hours.

There were just 125 fires affecting field, crop and open spaces during the whole of 2017 in the county but 411 for the first seven months of this year.

Horsford farmer Michael Keeler who lost a field of crops to fire.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYHorsford farmer Michael Keeler who lost a field of crops to fire. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Horsford farmer Michael Keeler who lost a field of crops to fire.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYHorsford farmer Michael Keeler who lost a field of crops to fire. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

And crews attended 958 incidents up until the end of last month, 343 more than the whole of last year.

A spokesperson for Norfolk County Council said: “NFRS received an unprecedented number of call-outs throughout June and July, due to fires in the hot weather and dry conditions.

Firefighters tackling a blaze in Thetford Forest close to Thetford Golf Club. Picture: Norfolk Fire and Rescue ServiceFirefighters tackling a blaze in Thetford Forest close to Thetford Golf Club. Picture: Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service

“As a result, we’ve had to call upon our retained firefighters much more than we would normally.

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service at the scene of a field fire in Ringstead. Picture: Rebecca MurphyNorfolk Fire and Rescue Service at the scene of a field fire in Ringstead. Picture: Rebecca Murphy

“This has obviously impacted staffing costs, however, our priority is keeping our communities safe and ensuring our fire & rescue service has all the resources it needs to do this.”

Fire fighters put out a straw bale fire in Thrandeston. PHOTO: Norfolk Fire and Rescue ServiceFire fighters put out a straw bale fire in Thrandeston. PHOTO: Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service

Chris Morlings a firefighter of 15 years, said it is one of the busiest summers he has seen.

He works whole-time at Lowestoft and retained at Leiston, said: “I’m getting home and just getting some tea and then the page goes off and you don’t know what it is until you get to the station. It does put a lot of pressure on at home.” He added: “There is a lot of movement and driving to spread the resources around. It is hard going and it shows the dedication of the fire service.”

Fiefighters tackle a blaze in the Horsey area
Picture: Norfolk Fire and Rescue ServiceFiefighters tackle a blaze in the Horsey area Picture: Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service

Farmers

Despite farmers taking precautions and following safety advice issued by the fire services, many have seen the consequences of the scorching summer.

Horsford farmer Michael Keeler lost crops worth up to £12,000 when his combine harvester sparked a field fire.

The fire in July affected more than 23 acres of barley. Although he was insured, he said it is the wider affect the fire can have which causes issues to farmers. He now has a shortfall of feed and bedding for his cattle.

“You have got to look at the wider picture,” he said. “People are losing not only the crops, but the straw they are going to need in the winter.”

Rebecca Davidson, rural insurance specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Early indications from our claims statistics suggest that farm fire claims in Norfolk and Suffolk in July have tripled from the same month last year. The impact on farmers, who have worked so hard all year, is devastating.”

Forestry Commission

Despite Thetford Forest being on an extreme fire risk warning and barbecues banned, people have not heeded the warnings.

There have been numerous small fires in the undergrowth - with one weekend in June seeing six fires reported across the 18,730 hectare forest at sites in Santon Downham, High Lodge and Mildenhall Woods.

A Forestry Commission spokesman said Thetford Forest have had three larger fires, affecting an area of more than one hectare, and that it did look like there has been an increased amount of fire related incidents.

The spokesman added: “Every year, fire destroys thousands of hectares of countryside. They are a threat to people, wildlife, forests, woodlands and trees.

“Although some are started deliberately, most of them are due to carelessness.

“We are fortunate in England that forest fires very rarely cause major incidents but we should still take care and remain vigilant. The Forestry Commission reminds everyone to take care all the time, not only during dry spells.”

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