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Chief fire officer warns raging fires near Manchester could happen in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 12:17 04 July 2018 | UPDATED: 16:09 04 July 2018

Fire fighters tackle a fire at Mousehold Heath. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Fire fighters tackle a fire at Mousehold Heath. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Archant

Norfolk’s chief fire officer has warned the sort of blazes which have been raging on the edge of Manchester could happen in this county.

Norfolk’s chief fire officer has warned the sort of blazes which have been raging on the edge of Manchester could happen in this county.

Firefighters from Manchester have been tackling blazes near Saddleworth Moor since Sunday, June 24.

Amid the ongoing hot weather, Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service chief David Ashworth said the dry conditions presented an increased risk in Norfolk.

He said fire crews had been called to 100 grass fires since the hot spell started.

He warned: “Everyone will have seen what has been undertaken by my colleagues in Greater Manchester and Lancashire.

Chief fire officer David Ashworth Pic Norfolk County CouncilChief fire officer David Ashworth Pic Norfolk County Council

“What’s been experienced in that part of the country could easily be replicated in our own county.

“We have not had any rain as such since the end of May.

“The Forestry Commission has put Thetford Forest in extreme alert. The undergrowth is incredibly dry and there’s no moisture in the soil.

“To date, our calls to fires in the open are up by a third on the same period in previous years.

“Yesterday we had 60 calls and we have attended 100 incidents of grass fires since the hot spell started.”

Fire fighters tackle the fire at Mousehold Heath. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYFire fighters tackle the fire at Mousehold Heath. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Arsonists are believed to have deliberately started more than half of the open fires in Norfolk over the last year, putting lives at risk in the current hot weather.

Of the 297 Norfolk fires this year already, 166 are considered to be deliberate. Recent problem areas include Mousehold Heath in Norwich and Wymondham and Attleborough.

Garry Collins, Head of Fire Prevention and Protection at Norfolk Fire & Rescue Service, is urging anyone who sees people starting fires to call police.

He said: “Arson costs lives. The majority of fires in the open are started deliberately and those people responsible will be caught and prosecuted. They are putting lives at risk and stretching our resources and we may well be needed elsewhere such as house fires and road traffic collisions that are life threatening.”

Norfolk on alert as wildfires prompt public warning

Fire fighters tackle the fire at Mousehold Heath. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYFire fighters tackle the fire at Mousehold Heath. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Norfolk Constabulary’s South Norfolk District Chief Inspector Alice Scott, said: “Arson is an extremely serious crime, which not only causes significant damage, but can also threaten lives, especially in the tinder dry conditions we’re experiencing at the moment.

“Officers are currently investigating a number of incidents in rural locations in the Attleborough and Wymondham areas as deliberate and fortunately no one has been injured as a result of them.

“I would urge residents, in particular farm owners, to be vigilant and report any suspicious behaviour by calling 999 if a crime is in progress or 101 if you have any information regarding the above incidents. Alternatively, contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.”

Mr Ashworth said amid the current tinder dry conditions the service had carried out risk assessments around the welfare of firefighters and the impact on employers who have retained firefighters on their staff.

And he said: “We know the locations which are at risk. We’ve had incidents where we’ve sent four or five pumps to Thetford and we’ve got Mousehold Heath where we’ve had an incident with four pumps.

Firefghters deal with the aftermath of the scrub fire at Leziate, near King's Lynn   Picture: Chris BishopFirefghters deal with the aftermath of the scrub fire at Leziate, near King's Lynn Picture: Chris Bishop

“And this is all before the school holidays have started, as well.”

He added the military had been brought in to help with the Manchester fires.

He said: “We are not predicting we will need that level of support, but we will have conversations with military bodies.”

He told members of Norfolk County Council’s communities committee: “I want to reassure councillors we have predicted what demand is likely to be in the coming weeks and we have measures in place to mitigate fires while keeping our workforce and the community safe.”

The committee also heard Mr Ashworth outline how the fire and Rescue service is redoubling its efforts to recruit more firefighters.

The service is slightly below its target to recruit retained firefighters, which has had an impact on some response time targets.

• To find out about becoming a firefighter, visit Norfolk Fire Service

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