Firefighters in UK battle fires in heat, much like in 2006

Frensham Common fire
A UK firefighter casually attacks a fire at Frensham Common in Surrey County on July 11. We hope he remembered his sunscreen.

UK Firefighters in Surrey County southwest of London battled a 200-acre vegetation fire during a heat wave on July 11. According to the Daily Mail, 80 firefighters and 23 engines worked the fire which started “after the baking heat apparently caused the fire to start naturally”. Let’s just say I’m dubious about the Daily Mail’s assessment of the cause.

This fire came almost exactly four years after a very significant fire burned about 60% of the 1,100-acre Thursley Common in Surrey County southwest of London on July 14, 2006. The fire occurred during a period that saw record heat in the UK.

Thursley Common fire 2006
Fire in Thursley Common, Surrey County, UK, July, 2006. Photo: BBC

Here is an excerpt from an article in The Independent about the 2006 fire:

…They first knew of the fire in the early afternoon of Friday 14 July when a farmer phoned to say he had seen smoke on the common. By the time they got there, the flames were coming out of Spur Wood on a 20-yard front about 60 yards deep; but in one of the shifts which make heath fires very hard to fight, the wind changed, the flames began to advance to the side – and now the fire front was 60 yards wide.

Thursley Common fire 2006
Thursley Common fire. Photo: John Owen Smith, Aug. 7, 2006

Nobes, 47, who has been at Thursley Common for 20 years, has seen many heath fires (though none comparable to 2006) and is alive to their tricks and their dangers. “You’ve got so much combustible material, they can move very quickly, faster than you can run,” he says. “Heath fires advance at a frenzy. They can start over-spotting, where hot debris falls ahead of the fire, so you can get a fire front almost leap-frogging itself as it advances with the wind.

“Then the topography can have a big effect. When a fire hits the base of a hill, it will at least double its speed as it goes up the slope, because the angle of the slope works as a fuel pre-loading system – the fuel in front is being pre-heated by the fire itself. And then it can shift direction whenever the wind changes.”

All that happened, making the Thursley fire a beast to handle. Surrey fire brigade got there very quickly but the flames had taken too deep a hold to extinguish with ease, and eventually crews from four other forces had to be called in and they took nearly four days. Fire officers share Simon Nobes’s view of the difficulties. “Heath fires present us with very significant challenges,” says Surrey Fire Service’s assistant chief officer Simon Moore. “There is often difficulty of access, difficulty getting water, and we have to think about protecting the houses which may be on the edge of the heath, the people who may be on the heath, and the fairly precious habitat itself.”

Thanks Chuck

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.