This section of the guidance identifies the hazards and control measures that must be considered when writing policies and procedures for dealing with wildfires. For the purpose of this guidance, a wildfire is defined as any uncontrolled vegetation fire where a decision or action is needed about its suppression. A wildfire will meet one or more of the following criteria:
- Involves a geographical area of at least one hectare (10,000 square metres)
- Has a sustained flame length of more than 1.5 metres
- Requires a committed resource of at least four fire and rescue service appliances/resources
- Requires resources to be committed for at least six hours
- Presents a serious threat to life, environment, property and infrastructure
The level of wildfire risk is not evenly spread across the UK; it varies considerably between seasons and between different regions of the UK. The key factors influencing wildfire risk are the prevailing weather conditions, vegetation types and the local topography.
Historically the UK has experienced periodic severe wildfire seasons. These seasons have tended to coincide with extended periods of warm and dry weather, and have sometimes been accompanied by high winds. The risk of wildfires is also affected by the size, condition and dryness of the fuel. Increased rainfall before warm, dry periods can cause rapid vegetation growth that can increase the risk of wildfires when the vegetation later dries. These are the conditions that provide the ideal environment for the development and spread of large and destructive wildfires.
Wildfires can be particularly challenging incidents for fire and rescue services to deal with because of their erratic nature, their potential size, scale and intensity and because of the rural and rural-urban interface environments in which they tend to occur. Large wildfires can be very resource intensive and this can create challenges for fire and rescue services in maintaining operational resilience and emergency cover.
Wildfires can have beneficial and/or negative impacts on the environment; the potential environmental impact is an important factor when planning how to deal with wildfires. The aim of developing guidance for wildfire control and effective firefighting tactics is to reduce the negative impacts that can be caused by these incidents.
In 2013 the Scottish Government published the Wildfire Operational Guidance, highlighting that:
"The impact of such a high volume of wildfire events in such a short concentrated period presents obvious challenges to FRSs in responding to the wildfires whilst maintaining their ability to meet other emergency operational demands and manage operational budgets.”
In recognition of their potential impact, 'severe wildfires' were added to the National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies in 2013 and 2015. In 2013, the National Risk Register stated:
"While the impact of wildfires is relatively low compared with other emergencies, the location of severe wildfires could cause damage or disrupt transport and energy infrastructure (for example, roads, airports, pipelines and power lines), commercial property and homes and crops. They also result in air pollution from smoke and fumes and could contaminate water and habitats and pose a health and safety risk.”
National Operational Guidance: Fires and firefighting provides the operational response for smaller, outdoor fires, along with generic information about firefighting media and techniques. This piece of guidance provides the more specific operational response for wildfires.