UK Wildfires: Preparing for grassfire and wildfires
Wildfires: How to prevent fires and stay safe
Wildfires have become more frequent, widespread, and intense in the UK. Here's what to do in hot, dry weather when there's an increased risk of grassfires and wildfires
Increasing temperatures lead to lengthy periods of hot, dry weather, raising the risk of uncontrolled fires breaking out. These can include grass or wildfires, both in urban and rural areas of the UK.
Hot weather and little rainfall can result in grassy areas becoming dry and straw-like. This happened in the summer of 2022 when the UK experienced multiple heatwaves and a period of prolonged high temperatures and little rainfall. In these conditions, grass can catch on fire from the smallest spark.
Grass fires in fields, parklands, and urban areas broke out across the country, as well as larger wildfires in rural areas. Homes and properties were lost, as well as a devastating impact on the environment and biodiversity.
During hot periods it’s important to take precautions and know how to stay safe during a wildfire.
If you see a wildfire:
- Stay calm
- Ensure you are in a safe location
- Call 999 and provide as much detail as possible about the fire including its size and location
FAQs on wildfires and grassfires
Preparing for a wildfire or grassfire
During a wildfire or grassfire
After a wildfire or grassfire
Preparing for wildfires or grassfires in the UK
During the summer months, it’s important to familiarise yourself with advice to keep safe from the dangers of wildfires and fires in the open.
- Be aware. Most wildfires in the UK originate from human activity. These will either be leisure activities or deliberate acts. They are often people unaware of the risks associated with fires, especially wildfires.
- Make sure to monitor reports of wildfires in your area through the media or via your local emergency services.
- Have an escape plan for your safety
- Make sure your family members (or members of staff know what to do and where to assemble in the event of a wildfire. This includes how to care for pets and domestic animals
- If you live in a rural area, make sure your home name or number is clearly visible from the road or main access point so firefighters can easily locate your address
- Check the current wildfire risk in your area (based on weather conditions) using the Met Office Fire Severity Index.
Preventing grassfires or wildfires
We can’t control the weather, and wildfires can spread rapidly and for long periods of time, with no guarantee they will stop naturally. The best way to prevent wildfires and grassfires from breaking out is to be careful and responsible during hot and dry periods. These conditions make a fire more likely to start, so don’t provide the spark.
The London Fire Brigade gives the following advice in order to prevent a wildfire:
- Don’t drop cigarettes or anything that is burning on dry ground
- Don’t drop cigarettes out of car windows, they may land on dry grass by the roadside
- Avoid having barbecues in parks and public spaces
- Never leave campfires or barbecues unattended and extinguish them properly after you have finished using them
- Position your barbecue on level ground and keep it well away from anything that may catch fire.
- Do not barbecue on balconies, the wind may carry smouldering ash towards nearby grassland If you’re barbecuing near dry grass have a bucket of water or sand nearby for emergency use
- Be aware that children, animals, balls, or anything else may knock over barbecues, increasing the risk of grass fires, especially when in busy parks or public spaces
- Dispose of glass bottles properly. Sunlight can become focused as it shines through the glass, starting fires
- Keep children away from lighters and matches.
Keep your home safe: check for hazards
Regularly inspect your home and property for fire hazards
- Look out for exposed firewood, leaf and brush clutter, and dead and overhanging branches
- Clear flammable debris – such as dead leaves – from rain gutters
- Check for spaces between roof tiles or within your home where burning embers could become lodged
- Make sure that flammable substances (including fertilisers and pesticides) are safely stored
- Check that all fire exits and property exit routes are clear
What to do if a grassfire or wildfire breaks out
If you see a wildfire, follow this advice from the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue service:
If you see a wildfire and are outside:
- Stay calm
- Ensure you are in a safe location (away from vegetation and smoke)
- If you are in your car, close all windows and vents
- Call 999 immediately. Tell the fire control the location, size, and any relevant information including the address, OS, or What3Words location.
If you are at home:
- Stay calm
- Put yourself in a place of safety - do not try to put out the fire yourself
- Keep doors and windows closed but unlocked
- Call 999 and inform us of your location. Provide us with as much detail as possible. Including the address, OS or What3Words location.
- Let us know the best access point to get to the property. If safe to do so, stand by the access point and speak to fire crews when they arrive.
When driving through wildfire smoke:
A Public Health Wales spokesperson has given the following advice. Motorists who have to travel through the smoke should:
- Keep windows closed, turn off air conditioning, and keep their air vents closed
- Smoke can irritate air passages, skin, and eyes, resulting in coughing and wheezing, breathlessness, and chest pain
- Individuals with pre-existing cardiovascular and respiratory conditions, such as asthma, should carry any necessary medication or inhalers with them at all times and seek medical advice if their symptoms worsen by contacting their GP or NHS 111.
Leave if you think you should
If you are advised to evacuate, or if you think you are in danger, evacuate immediately. Don't wait to be told to evacuate. The fire may spread too fast for officials to issue evacuation orders.
If you are not trained and equipped to fight a wildfire, do not put your life at risk. Leave right away: delay could be deadly.
Protect your animals
If you cannot take your animals with you, take the following precautions:
- If you have livestock or horses, sweep hay and other combustible feed away from the barn or stable
- Close windows and doors to prevent embers from entering buildings
- Consider opening barn doors and corrals to let animals escape
- Confine pets and service animals to one room
- If you are evacuating with animals, leave early
Have enough fuel or charge in your car
- Face your vehicle in the direction of escape
- Shut your car doors and close the windows
- Have your key ready, or leave it in the ignition
Wear protective clothing
- Wear sturdy shoes, long cotton or woollen trousers, long-sleeved shirts, and gloves
- Carry a damp handkerchief to protect your face
- Carry wet towels to cover your head or bare skin or to wrap your feet, in case you need to run through a small area of fire
ONLY if you have time, protect your home
Protect yourself, your loved ones, and your family first. It’s best not to fight the fire yourself - remember that normal water pressure may not be available. If you do have time, you can follow these steps:
- Turn off the gas at the meter
- Close the valves on propane tanks
- Open fireplace dampers
- Close windows, vents, doors, blinds, and non-combustible window coverings
- Use a wet cloth to block any other openings
- Remove lightweight or combustible window coverings
- Move combustible furniture to the centre of the home, away from windows and doors. Place in a pond or body of water, any valuables that will not be damaged by water.
- Remove combustible items from around the home
- Connect hoses to outside taps
If you are trapped by a wildfire or grassfire
- If you are trapped by a wildfire or grassfire outdoors
- Remember that you cannot outrun a wildfire or grassfire.
- If there is no body of water nearby, look for shelter in a cleared area among a bed of rocks
- Lie flat, face down, and cover your body with soil
- Breathe air close to the ground
After grassfires or wildfires
- Look out for smouldering hot spots or items, and be careful they don’t reignite
- Beware of hazards such as burnt trees and power poles or fallen wires and ash pits
- Seek permission from the fire brigade before re-entering the area
- Check for damage and stay out of damaged buildings.
- After a wildfire, take precautions while cleaning your property
- Keep children away from clean-up sites
- Use rubber gloves when cleaning
The risks and dangers of grass and wildfires
Knowing the risks can help keep you safe, familiarise yourself with information about the types of uncontrolled fires that could be a danger in the UK.
What is a wildfire?
A wildfire is an uncontrolled, destructive fire that spreads quickly over woodland or grassland. Wildfires are unpredictable and can spread quickly, change direction, posing a threat to people, property and the environment. While they usually breakout in rural areas or open pieces of land they are still dangerous because they spread quickly and are difficult to contain.
What is a grassfire?
A grassfire is a fire in an area of grassland. Extended periods of hot and dry weather can increase the risk of a grassfire. This is because grass becomes very dry without rain, and even the smallest of sparks can cause it to burn very quickly. Fires can also break out on moorland and in wooded forest areas.
Is a grassfire the same as a wildfire?
A grassfire can happen in any dry, grassy area. A wildfire spreads through forests and areas of wild land such as moors. Both spread quickly and can cause devastation.
What are the causes of a grassfire or a wildfire?
Hot, sunny and dry weather and a lack of rain make fires more likely, but hot weather alone cannot start a grass or wildfire. One of the main causes is people not being careful when outside in open areas and grasslands, such as discarding cigarettes or using a disposable barbecue.. During long, hot spells of weather these small actions can provide the spark that could cause a fire to breakout.
For more information about the causes of wildfires and why they’re on the increase in the UK and around the world, read the Met office’s report.
What can start a wildfire or grassfire?
Any burning spark can start a grass fire: cigarettes and exposable barbeques are the most common causes.
A smouldering cigarette dropped onto grass – or thrown out of a car window - is very likely to cause a grass fire in dry conditions. Make sure you extinguish cigarettes properly and throw them away when you get home.
Embers from disposable barbeques can be carried by the wind and cause fires that way. They can also retain heat after use, so never abandon a disposable barbeque. Always make sure you put it out properly and throw it away.
Glass bottles are another cause. They magnify the sun, and can cause fires if left in, or near dry glass.
What do I do if I see a grassfire or wildfire?
Wildfires and grassfires spread at lightening speed, and are hard to put out. If you see dry grass smoking or smouldering, call 999 immediately. Don’t assume someone has already reported it.