Heathland Fires

Heath fires are at their most devastating during periods of hot and sunny weather when the grass and undergrowth is particularly dry. Fire can travel through gorse and dry undergrowth at astounding speed.

Consequences of uncontrolled fires

Uncontrolled fires threaten leisure activities such as camping and caravanning. But as well as being potentially fatal to humans, the fires threaten wildlife and many areas of beauty across the county. Many animals are unable to escape from fire and will be burnt. Birds can fly away but the nests and eggs that are left behind are destroyed.

What are the causes?

Uncontrolled fires happen for a variety of reasons, including people carelessly dropping cigarettes, leaving rubbish in an area, losing control of barbeques and bonfires, and in a small number of cases deliberately starting fires.

How to prevent wild fires on heathland

Surrey Fire and Rescue investigates incidents of arson on heathland. Following a great deal of work carried out by the Fire Investigation and Arson Reduction team, government funding enabled the establishment of a dedicated 'Arson Task Force'.
However, everyone can help to reduce the risk of fire so that Surrey's countryside remains safe, by taking care during the dry summer months in particular. Firefighters are urging the public to help them to prevent these devastating fires occurring by following this preventative advice:

  • Smoking
    If out walking or having a picnic, be sure to dispose of cigarettes and other smoking materials carefully and ensure that they are fully extinguished.
  • Barbeques
    On most heathlands, it is actually illegal to light any fire, including barbeques, without the permission of the landowner.
  • Litter
    Please take your litter home with you. Even a discarded glass bottle can start a fire.
  • Young People
    Please educate children about the devastating consequences of causing fires.

What to do if a fire does break out in the countryside

  • Call the Fire Service without delay
  • Keep well away from the fire - heathland fires can spread fast
  • Only attempt to put it out if you are certain it is safe to do so
  • If you have livestock which may be affected, prepare to evacuate them if necessary
  • If you have farm machinery, prepare to use it to assist the Fire Service

Controlled burning of heathland

Uncontrolled or deliberately set wildfires have very different consequences from 'controlled burns', which are occasionally used to regenerate small areas of heathland. These controlled fires are carefully planned and managed by experienced staff, and are usually carried out in late winter to minimise damage to heathland wildlife.