Damage assessed as hot weather sparks wildfires


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The Independent Online

Damage at Britain's largest cemetery was being assessed today after dry conditions caused by the unusually warm spring weather sparked wildfires.

A blaze raged yesterday over 17 acres of the 500-acre Brookwood Cemetery near Woking, Surrey, where more than 235,000 people have been buried since 1854.

More than 40 firefighters tackled the flames as fire chiefs warned that the lack of rain and tinder box dry conditions in the South East were the "perfect recipe" for wildfires.

The fire broke out as many parts of the UK sweltered in temperatures of above 20C (68F) - but the warm weather is not due to continue into the weekend, according to forecasters.

A Surrey Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said today that no properties were affected by the blaze, which was brought under control by around 4pm, two hours after it started.

He could not comment on the amount of damage caused.

Six fire engines, a water tanker and specialist off-road vehicles were drafted in to attack the flames from different areas, the fire service said.

Fire service area manager Alan Clark said wildfires were notoriously difficult to control, adding: "These fires cause devastation to the countryside, wildlife and property.

"They pose a risk to life, both to the public and the firefighters tackling these blazes."

Each year, there are around 79,000 wildfires in the UK - an average of 216 per day.

Brookwood Cemetery was consecrated by the Bishop of Winchester on November 7 1854 and opened to the public six days later. At the time it was believed to be the largest burial ground in the world.

Surrey County Council leader David Hodge said: "These blazes can start for all sorts of reasons.

"A moment of carelessness could result in devastation to the countryside and lives being put at risk."

Meanwhile, firefighters were returning to the hills above Harrogate, North Yorkshire, today after they spent yesterday afternoon tackling a large moor fire.

Crews from as far away as Tadcaster and neighbouring West Yorkshire were brought in to tackle the blaze on Hanging Moor, above the village of Thruscross, shortly before 2pm.

A spokeswoman for North Yorkshire Fire Service said a large number of firefighters were needed "due to the actual vastness of the moor" and it was burning over three different fronts.

One front is thought to be 200m long.

The spokeswoman said there were five different seats of fire identified. One crew was left monitoring the blaze overnight.

This morning, she said: "This fire is still burning and will continue to for some days. A cause has not yet been confirmed but further details will be supplied during the next few days."

A moorland fire in Edenfield, Lancashire, was under control today following an early morning inspection.

Crews from Lancashire and Greater Manchester were called to the blaze off Rochdale Road, near Scout Moor Wind Farm, at about 5pm yesterday.

They were confronted with a number of separate pockets of fire covering two square miles in what was described as a "very large" blaze.

Water firm United Utilities also provided specialist all-terrain vehicles to access remote parts of the areas affected, said Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service.

Firefighters were withdrawn at 7pm due to fading light after they were satisfied that no property or livestock was at risk.

A fire service spokeswoman confirmed the blaze had dissipated when crews returned at 5.30am today to reassess the situation.

John Clarke, the historical consultant at Brookwood Cemetery, said the fire damage was largely limited to adjoining heathland.

He said: "The main damage was to turf which turned black as the fire moved across it.

"There would have been more serious implications for the cemetery if the fire had spread in a different direction.

"Nevertheless, it is likely that some wildlife has been affected by the fire."

The fire brigade was continuing to monitor the area today in case of any flare-ups, he added.

A message reassuring friends and relatives of people who have memorials at the site was posted on the cemetery's website.

Part of it said: "Only a limited area of the cemetery was affected, in the area of plots 55 and 56 beyond All Hallows Avenue.

"The majority of the fire was centred on the adjoining heathland. We would like to reassure anyone concerned about damage to memorials that it is largely the turf that has been fire-damaged."