Firefighters are reporting the biggest demand on their services for many years as the continuing drought and high temperatures create the perfect conditions for destructive fires.
Concern is mounting about the increased toll on emergency crews, both full time and voluntary, as they spend hours tackling gorse and grass fires which are extremely hard to control as the countryside bears the brunt of the driest weather for more than 80 years.
Countryside rangers and firefighters are urging people to take more care over the use of barbecues especially.
Although only halfway through August, Tavistock fire crews have been called out more than 25 times this month where a specialist all-terrain vehicle, four-wheel drive or pump appliance has been deployed. An average summer month would see 10 to 15 for a whole month.
Of these, callouts, 17 have been heat and fire related with the cause often careless use of fires such as disposable barbecues or discarded cigarette butts causing tinder dry grass and under growth to go up in flames in gardens and on Dartmoor.
The blaze, in moorland undergrowth, was attended at 1.30am on Sunday with most crews relieved at 6am by Bovey Tracey and Hatherleigh who remained to knock out any hot spots.
Proving the difficulty of fully extinguishing such fires in extremely dry conditions, crews attended reports of smoke at Gibbet Hill near Mary Tavy.
Fire engines from Tavistock, Yelverton and Okehampton as well as the water bowser from Danes Castle, Exeter and all terrain vehicles from Tavistock and Okehampton. It is believed this was the remnant of a previous fire and firefighters were on scene from 10.30am to 2.30pm.
Tavistock, in common with colleagues throughout Devon, Cornwall and Somerset, are often stretched by similar incidents with multiple events needing their attention. Last weekend included operations on Dartmoor, Totnes, Brixton, Plymouth and Tavistock.
Tavistock Fire Station Manager Glenn Arundel said: ‘These are unprecedented times for all of us across Devon & Somerset and Cornwall too — 25 calls this month.
‘The majority are protracted calls to fires in the countryside and in many people’s gardens spreading to sheds and specifically to a playing field and then spreading to gardens and sheds of multiple houses in St Budeaux in Plymouth.’
He thanked locals for their support as they battled in the summer heatwave where temperatures reached 30 over consecutive days in many places in Devon: ‘Great work from all the local residents who helped with numerous buckets of water, hoses and a good supply of cold drinks for us all.’
Glenn added: ‘Please help us out over the next few days whilst it remains extremely hot.
‘Please don’t have any barbecues or bonfires and make sure cigarettes are put out, these are where the majority of the fires we attend can be prevented. Stay safe and enjoy the weather.
Retail stores including Morrisons, Co-op, Lidl and Lawsons in Tavistock have confirmed they have stopped selling disposable barbecues while the extreme conditions continue, because they are a major cause of grass and heathland fires.
A typical few days for fire crews during the drought included Tavistock being called out last week on Thursday afternoon when a crew with the off road vehicles went to Totnes to a field fire involving crops and a combine and the next day crews from stations across the region manned 12 appliances, the four-wheel drive vehicle and the all-terrain vehicle at a similar incident in Brixton.
On top of the fires during last weekend Tavistock joined the rescue of a deer from a disused reservoir by the RSPCA with crews from Plymouth’s Camels Head Specialist Rescue Team. The deer was rescued and released back into the wild.
Glenn said: ‘This sort of demand does take its toll on firefighters when you also work your own day-to-day jobs and then you’re out all night firefighting. But that said, we are all of great fitness and work really well together with a bond you don’t have in many jobs.
‘We always look look out for each other and it can be the most enjoyable and rewarding too.’
On the issue of barbecues, a Co-op spokesperson said: ‘Safety is our priority and we’ve worked closely with the National Fire Chiefs Council on instant barbecues since 2021. As a precautionary measure due to the extreme hot weather, we’ve removed instant barbecues from sale in all Co-op stores until further notice.’
Lidl said: ‘Given the ongoing weather conditions we have taken the decision to temporarily remove disposable barbecues from sale.’