Our region is a tinderbox

CELIA WIGG The region is on red hot alert this weekend as the continuing heatwave threatens to turn the countryside into a tinderbox.

CELIA WIGG

The region is on red hot alert this weekend as the continuing heatwave threatens to turn the countryside into a tinderbox.

Yesterday, a spark from a stone was all that it took to start a blaze that ripped through a 60- acre field of standing barley, at Carleton Rode, near Attleborough, as strong winds fanned the flames.

At Morton on the Hill, near Norwich, about 15 acres of corn and cut straw were destroyed in almost identical circumstances - the fire also believed to have been caused by farm machinery striking a flint.

Earlier in the day, about 50 acres of corn and straw went up in a field fire at South Pickenham Road, Swaffham.

And last night fire crews were damping down after 100 acres of barley, set-aside land and woodland were engulfed in a blaze at Thornage Road, Holt, that swept through hedges which normally form a natural barrier.

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With little rain in recent weeks and the current high temperatures and blustery conditions dessicating undergrowth, the number of incidents could spiral this weekend - with a discarded match, cigarette, or untended barbecue prime contenders for igniting tinder dry grass and ripening crops.

Forestry wardens are also on high alert this weekend, following a blaze two weeks ago involving six acres of woodland at Weeting, near Brandon, that broke out during an illegal rave.

Thousands of visitors are expected to flock to High Lodge, in Thetford Forest, and 40 other woodland sites over the two days.

And Mike Taylor, business manager for the Forestry Commission, warned walkers, cyclists, horse riders and motorists to be extra vigilant and careful, because of the combination of hot weather, dry vegetation and more people being in the vicinity.

He said: “We want people to enjoy the forest but the key message is that we are under an extreme fire risk, and we need the public to be extra vigilant and careful.

“That means no discarded cigarettes, broken bottles and barbecues.”

At Carleton Rode, farmer Alan Thompson of Folly Farm was in his tractor collecting up bales, when he looked back and saw a small area of cut straw on fire.

Combine driver Maurice Welham raised the alarm just before 2pm, while Mr Thompson quickly raced ahead in his tractor to dig out a fire break to try to stop the flames spreading.

Cliff Amos, fire chief at Attleborough, said: “The farmer was very brave because with the high winds the fire was spreading at an alarming rate.

“The fire was started accidentally. It is very stony ground, and we believe a bale sledge kicked up a few sparks.”

Seven fire crews were sent - two from Wymondham and the others from Attleborough, Hingham, Long Stratton, East Harling and Watton.

At Holt, the fire was started accidentally at about 4.30pm during farming activities, and quickly spread to neighbouring fields.

Norfolk fire service spokesman David Frost, who is station manager at Sprowston, said: “The hedgerows look green, but when you get to the base there is just dry grass and the fires are going straight through them, which is what happened at Holt.”