While many people enjoyed the unseasonably warm start to Spring, fire and rescue services across the country have had to deal with an increase in heath fires as the hot weather further worsened Britain's ongoing drought.

South Wales Fire and Rescue alone reported over 100 call-outs to grass fires this weekend with SWFRS head of fire crime Chris Hadfield saying: "We had quite a substantial increase in calls over the weekend.

"These fires are certainly unpredictable and can spread quickly. It really does place a big impact on us."

One of the worst cases SWFRS had to deal with was a nine hour blaze across a 10 hectare site near Monmouthshire where temperatures saw above 20oC over the weekend and Hadfield is concerned the weather may be used to conceal deliberate fires.

"From the calls we had, it's very, very difficult to tell unless we catch people in the act," he added.

"There's no coincidence that there's good weather and grass fires. With the police this year, we've got patrols we've set up and we've got dedicated teams working in the area."

A lack of rain over the winter has left the ground and gorse barren so any fires have spread very rapidly, with Dorset also badly affected including a blaze on a heath in Poole which eyewitnesses said "leapt 30ft into the air".

Richard Coleman, incident commander for Dorset Fire and Rescue, said: "The dry conditions means that any spark from a cigarette or BBQ could have caused this.

"It is a very timely reminder to warn people of the real dangers of any naked flame or spark near tinder dry forest or scrub."

For more information on countryside and heath safety visit www.dorsetfire.co.uk and click here for details of the Service's 'Urban Heath Partnership'.

Posted 26/03/2012 by richard.hook@pavpub.com