The US State of California is currently in the grip of some of the worse wildfires in recent memory and has declared a state of emergency as the fire services try to bring the blazes under control.

Dorset & Wiltshire Fire & Rescue Service Watch Manager Andy Elliott, station commander at Maiden Newton fire station, recently returned from California after spending three weeks working with the Middletown crews of Cal Fire in their Lake Nappa Unit.

Andy is one of only 12 Wildlife Tactical Advisors for the UK. He has been going to California since 2015 after being called upon to use his expertise and training to help tackle the Valley Fire, which became the most destructive fire in California’s 167 year history, burning across over 76,000 acres, destroying nearly 2,000 homes and taking the lives of four people.

During his first two weeks with the Middletown crews, Andy rode with the crews attending several incidents including four structure fires, many medical incidents and a number of wildfires. Andy received training on their unique equipment and learnt new wildfire techniques as well as completing his USA Wildfire qualifications, allowing him to fight wildfires anywhere in the USA and to take initial command of incidents.

As part of his visit, Andy explored the psychological effects that wildfires have on people and communities as well as exploring how they and the forests are recovering.

firefighter tackling Californian wildfires

Many homes destroyed in wildfires are never rebuilt, but some communities are starting to recover. Before the fires, communities were in beautiful green forests, but now people will potentially live in a blackened disfigured landscape for years. There are signs of recovery as seedlings are sprouting and new trees are being planted replacing those that were lost, but it will take tens of years to recover.

Wildfires are not limited to the United States or Continental Europe. Conditions during the summer months, especially across the heathland and plains of Dorset and Wiltshire, often lend themselves to wildfires. To raise awareness and to discuss how we can prepare for wildfires in the UK, Andy and Dorset County Council are organising this year’s UK Wildfires Conference in Bournemouth on 7-8 November.

Andy said: “Climate change predictions are suggesting that we may see more extreme wildfire conditions in the UK. Southern Europe has suffered its most destructive wildfire season ever and this is slowly coming our way. It is important that UK firefighters learn lessons from other parts of the world to help us prepare for our own wildfires.”

The theme for this year’s conference is ‘Wildfire Mitigation in a UK Context’ attracting first-responders, planners, land managers and landscape architects from across the country. The biennial conference, hosted by Dorset’s Urban Heaths Partnership, and overseen by the England and Wales Wildfire Forum and the Scottish Wildfire Forum, will bring together wildfire practitioners from all over the UK and beyond. Speakers and workshops will be investigating how to make UK homes, communities and the landscape more wildfire-resilient in the future.

Chief Fire Officer Ben Ansell from Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “We hope that the conference will generate a wide debate on the issues around wildfire resilience in the UK and lead to action, if required, to resolve any issues identified. In light of the recent wildfire tragedies around the world, it is appropriate for key stakeholders within the UK to review our position on wildfires, to ensure that we are well-prepared to meet the challenges posed by our present and future climate and fuels.”

More information on the UK Wildfire Conference, plus how to book can be found at - you can also follow its progress on social media with the hashtag #UKWildfireConf17

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