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Nwicker60
19-May-11, 11:03
Joint approach with landowners
vital says Highland fire chief


A HIGHLAND fire boss has been counting the cost of a concentrated spell of wildfires-both in terms of the operational expense and the damage caused.
Chief fire officer Trevor Johnston stressed the importance of a joint approach with landowners to maximise rescources.
During a single week, between April 29 to May 5, the fire service responded to over 70 significant wildfires sparked by a period of very dry weather.
Mr Johnston said that while the firefighting activities were extensively reported upon at the time,it was only now that the true impact of the fires could be assessed and he has praised the commitment of his teams.
Mr Johnson said: “The fires we have experienced, present a significant threat to firefighters who often had to work on very difficult terrain. During the fires, people’s homes and a campsite had to be evacuated, and, as a precaution, on one occasion, a helicopter had to evacuate people from a Munro, due to the volume and density of the smoke. To maintain firefighting operations over the period, almost 1,800 firefighters had to be deployed with, assistance being provided by landowners, at some locations. The dedication of all personnel involved in these operations, must be recognised.”
Mr Johnston said that the effects of these wildfires were undoubtedly devastating to the rural environment and while he was aware, that, throughout the UK during the same period, other fires raged out of control, he doubted if any area was as severely affected as the Highlands.
He continued: “This period of activity, I am sure, will bring wildfires to the fore in the minds of rural landowners and I hope that planning to more effectively fight future fires, will be improved. I have already been working with lead agencies involved in land management, to develop a network of Wildfire Groups which will bring the capability to co-ordinate mutual aid between landowners, and their valued personnel and make specialist equipment available to tackle any large wildfire.”
Whilst the direct financial cost of the wildfires in HIFRS area of over 125,-000 can be attributed to the 332 fire appliance movements that were required, the extended cost was more difficult to quantify, as land managers provided staff and financed the helicopter operation which was required at some fires. Included in this figure is 5000 attributable to equipment destroyed.
The indirect costs of the fires was more difficult to calculate, as methods to better quantify information about the impacts of wildfire on the local economy, was required. Within these outcomes the environmental impact, including damage to sites of conservation and special scientific interest, the cultural and heritage costs and the impact on business, including the effects on tourism, had to be considered.
Extensive research on wildfire following fires in Yorkshire (2003) estimated the cost of reinstating moorland to be between 800 to 2,900 per hectare. During this six-day period, it is estimated that 9100 hectares of vegetation cover, including 3,200 hectares of forestry, was destroyed. Using the Yorkshire estimates, the Highland damage represented a potential loss of between 7.1 million to 26.4m.
Considering the dry conditions which still prevail, HIFRS will work with land managers to develop Wildfire Groups as, with the height of summer still to come, the risk of more wildfires was every present.
Mr Johnston added; “Members of the public are requested to be ever vigilant, not to start a wildfire with country bbqs, bonfires and carelessly-discarded cigarettes being a constant hazard.”