Welsh firefighter tackling summer wild blazes in Spain says similar measures will now be needed at home
A Welsh firefighter who leads a helicopter crew battling wildfires in Spain has said that the techniques used in southern Europe will now needed in his home country.
Nicholas Eley, 47, who has been fighting forest fires in Spain for two decades said that the nations of the UK would “need to adapt” to the same techniques as climate change leads to increasingly hot and dry summers.
His warning comes as the Met Office’s fire severity index (FSI) – an assessment of how serious a blaze could become if one were to start, will reach “exceptional” – the highest level – for a swathe of England stretching to the border with Wales by the weekend.
Nicholas Eley, who studied as a forestry engineer but moved to Spain after meeting his now wife who is from the country, told the Telegraph that “the fire service in Britain needs to adapt”.
“They should research the dangers that are increasing with climate change and take steps such as creating a fire danger rating system, as Spain and other countries have, which helps the fire service prepare resources for times of high risk and also makes the public more aware,” he said.
“The fires in Britain will be different to those in Spain, mostly grass or heath fires which are fast-moving, flashy fires which can become what we call ‘interface’ fires affecting suburban areas.
“The UK will need to be more clever about land management, creating more resilient landscapes, thinning forests, clearing debris and using prescribed burning to create a mosaic of natural fire breaks.”
Meanwhile, Labour has accused the Tories of putting “the smoke alarm on snooze” as wildfires break out across the nations of the UK.
The party claimed the UK Government has been “asleep at the wheel” in response to the extreme heat, with resilience planning “nothing short of woeful”.
Labour pointed out that the Government has not yet published its national resilience strategy, set to cover “environmental hazards” including heatwaves, despite a consultation to shape the plan closing some 10 months ago.
It has set out its own proposals for a “more resilient Britain”, including a “whole-system approach” to preparing for national emergencies.
This would involve creating a new Cabinet sub-committee on national resilience, Labour said.
The party would also conduct an urgent review of the UK’s emergency Cobra committee, and appoint a minister for resilience within the Cabinet Office to coordinate department-wide responses.
Separately, Labour would “overhaul” local resilience forums, introducing “clear accountability”, new training standards for officials, and formal inspections.
And it would implement a “whole-of-society approach to resilience”, bringing on board businesses and volunteer groups for national planning.
Fleur Anderson, Labour’s shadow paymaster general, said the Tories have showed “they can’t be trusted with civil contingencies”.
“This Conservative government’s abject failure to adequately prepare for wildfires is a dereliction of duty that is putting lives at risk,” she said.
“The threat of wildfires has been recognised on the national risk register for nearly a decade, yet the Government’s resilience planning has been nothing short of woeful.”
Ms Anderson accused Tory ministers of putting “the smoke alarm on snooze for far too long”, adding: “This is an urgent wake-up call.”
“The Government has failed to explain any clear emergency response plan to protect the public during last month’s heatwave and they are repeating their own mistakes,” she said.
“It’s been almost a year since they closed their national resilience strategy consultation, but we have seen no strategy from them to address the threat of climate change.
“Labour has a concrete plan to boost Britain’s resilience, while the Tories are showing once again that they can’t be trusted with civil contingencies.”
Riccardo la Torre, national officer of the Fire Brigades Union, said firefighters are making “phenomenal” efforts to deal with the outbreak of summer blazes.
He told the PA news agency: “We have been warning for years about the impact of cutting jobs and taking fire engines out of service, but it has fallen on deaf ears as far as the Government and chief fire officers are concerned.
“They have chosen to press ahead with their obsession on cutting jobs. There are 11,500 fewer firefighters than in 2010. Even if we had the same numbers now, it is an almost impossible task to keep up with all the fires. Conditions are absolutely brutal.
“On the hottest days in London there are fire engines standing idle because there are not enough firefighters to crew them.”
A Government spokesperson said: “The Government is committed to ensuring fire services have the resources they need to keep us safe, including from wildfires, and, overall, fire and rescue authorities will receive around £2.5 billion in 2022/23.
“Lessons from the July heatwave are being implemented at pace and we are conducting daily risk assessments with the key agencies involved to ensure we’re fully prepared for extreme weather.
“We will set out our approach for the country’s resilience to 2030 and make sure we continue to be prepared to meet all future challenges.”
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