THE number of wildfires battled by crews from the Dorset and Wiltshire fire service this summer increased threefold on recent years as temperatures soared.

On average, 187 blazes involving grassland, woodland and crops were reported in May, June and July between 2014 and 2017.

However, this year, crews tackled 444 wildfires during the three-month stretch - more than three times as many as in 2016, when just 142 such fires were reported.

Many fires in open spaces start deliberately or as the result of carelessness.

Fire service group manager Richard Coleman said: “The summer of 2018 saw exceptional weather conditions across the whole of the UK.

“In Dorset and Wiltshire, as with other services across the country, the weather meant a large increase in heath, grass and woodland fires. The hot, dry and windy conditions meant that the vegetation was easily ignited and when it caught fire, the wind fanned the flames causing fires to get out of control easily.

“When they arise, these incidents are challenging. However, this year could have been far worse. The training and equipment available to us worked well and enabled us to cope with the wildfires while still providing adequate cover for other incidents.

“Fires of this type are generally started deliberately or through the careless actions of individuals. The public and land managers need to fully understand the risks associated with very warm, dry conditions and adapt their practices accordingly.”

The Urban Heath Partnership provide fire education and training in Dorset.

“During the summer months we remind the public to take real care when enjoying our beautiful countryside,” Mr Coleman said.

“If you do want a campfire or barbecue, please make sure that you’re in a safe area and that the ashes are fully extinguished and damped down before you leave.

“Large wildfires are thankfully rare but, when they do occur, they take a great deal of resources to bring under control, which impacts the availability of appliances for property fires and other emergencies.

“The damage to local wildlife is also significant, often destroying ecosystems that have taken years to build up.”

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