Another day, another huge countryside fire in Cambridgeshire.
As more than 50 firefighters battled a huge blaze in Haddenham, the latest to break out in desperately dry conditions, it was another reminder of what fire services can increasingly expect to face as climate change tightens its grip.
Around 200 acres of farmland, including bales, hedges and crops, were affected by the blaze on Saturday afternoon, which required the attention of crews from Cottenham, Ely, Cambridge, Littleport, Chatteris , March, Sawtry, Wisbech, the Peterborough Volunteer Fire Brigade, Stanground, Dogsthorpe and the Southern Roving Fire Engine, plus Ramsey’s water carrier and a crew from Wickhambrook in Suffolk. They were called at 4:12 p.m. and stayed there for about four hours.
The Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service said: ‘Firefighters worked hard throughout the afternoon to bring the blaze under control. They began leaving the scene around 8 p.m. and will maintain a regular presence to ensure the area is safe. ”
With so little rain in July, the ground is exceptionally dry and a single spark can ignite a fire that quickly spirals out of control.
And as our summers get hotter and drier, it’s a sign of what’s to come.
The county fire chief admitted he fears the increasing demands placed on the service as extreme weather conditions become more common could prevent it from providing an immediate response to every emergency.
Chris Strickland was speaking following July’s record heat wave, during which Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service call handlers handled nearly 800 calls – including 300 between 2pm and 5pm on Tuesday July 19, while they were helping other services.
As several fires on the ground broke out amid the extreme heat, fire engines were dispatched to 92 incidents in Cambridgeshire that day – the highest number since at least 2009, when the system current registration of the service has been set up. On an average July day, the service expects to attend 25.
This meant that virtually all of his fire appliances were extinguished at the same time.
Mr Strickland said the service had been “pushed to the limit”.
“For long stretches in the afternoon we had almost every available fire engine engaged in an incident, which is unprecedented for us,” he explained.
“Our combined fire control was under immense pressure throughout the two days, dealing with numerous calls for Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, both counties with significant fires.
“At one time, Duty Call Managers were providing mobilizer support to other fire departments across the country due to unprecedented demand elsewhere. They not only handled emergencies in Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, but also London, Greater Manchester and Yorkshire.
And he warned: “Having almost every available fire engine engaged in an incident is a situation that concerns me as we have reached a stage where we may have had difficulty providing immediate service to someone in emergency or at the very least took longer to get there,” he warned.
“We often rely on other services to help us with big incidents, just like our teams did this weekend with the big Essex border fire. However, when all services are extended like this, we cannot always rely on each other.
“Widespread events like extreme weather push every service to its limits, as we saw on Tuesday with our call handlers having to provide support to some of the biggest services in the country.
“Our staff can hold their heads up high as they all rose to the challenges of the extreme heat wave and I am very proud of all of the service members for their hard work.”
But the heat wave raises questions about how fire services will need to be equipped, as climate change makes extreme heat, as well as flooding, more frequent.
The temperature officially hit 39.9C at the University of Cambridge Botanic Garden on Tuesday July 19, while a new national record of 40.3C was set in Coningsby, Lincolnshire.
Mr Strickland added: “At times like these, I am so proud of the people we have. Everyone demonstrated their passion for serving the community and giving their best, but also for being there to help each other.
“We had our officers set up our major incident command room to coordinate our teams and make sure we could relieve them and rotate them to make sure they were fit and healthy.
“They were also checking in on the well-being of our screening staff and working with support staff to provide refreshments as they literally couldn’t leave their desks at certain times of the day.
“Our communications team was also on hand to make sure we not only informed the public of key incidents, but also sent out key safety messages to try and reduce the number of incidents that were happening. is mobilized to ensure that we provide the best level of service possible.
“It’s also very encouraging to see residents interact with us and send us their praise and thanks.
“We received over 600 comments on our social media channels from people appreciating the hard work of incident teams and our call handlers in our Combined Fire Control.
“They clearly recognize the conditions we worked in and it means a lot to us that people take the time to show us their support.”
On-call staff proved essential to the response.
Mr Strickland said: ‘As a service that relies heavily on part-time firefighters juggling their day jobs to support us, we still struggle with daytime machine availability, sometimes having as few as eight On-call devices available every day of the week.
“However, prior to the extreme weather, many of our on-call staff responded to our requests for assistance and we were able to increase our on-call availability to between 12 and 20 aircraft over the two days.
“Many of our on-call employees will have taken time off from their day jobs, or relocated if they are self-employed, to make themselves available to respond to emergencies knowing their community needs it.”
The firefighters’ union, however, will want to see the appreciation translate into a better pay offer, after describing the 2% on the table for firefighters as “wholly insufficient”. He rejected the offer and, days before one of the busiest days in national fire service history, announced he was developing a living wage campaign that could include the preparation for a strike.
Calls for new investment in fire services to ensure they are prepared for a future in which extreme weather becomes more common are sure to follow.