Met Office rates Hollingbourne and the North Downs a high risk for fires in the present heatwave.

Kent Live is reporting that Hollingbourne and the North Downs are rated as high risk areas for fires during the current heatwave. The following report by Vicky Castle may be of interest to local residents.

We have all welcomed the warm weather with open arms and have been making the most of a good summer in Kent.

But while it’s nice to get a tan, the unusually-long period of time without rain has had serious implications across the county.

But with no – or very little – rain for a while, Kent’s grasslands have become dry and yellow, which has increased the risk of fires.

The Met Office issued a heatwave alert for the county and warned temperatures are likely to continue to soar.

What’s more, the forecasting experts warned the scorching temperatures, which have stretched on all month, could go on for weeks.

And that might sound like great news, but there are risks to be aware of.

A field set on fire in Canterbury
A field set on fire in Canterbury (Image: Melanie Boyling)

‘Increased risk of wild fires’

Firefighters rushed to a field fire near Canterbury yesterday (July 15), after receiving a number of calls about standing corn alight in a field off Stodmarsh Road.

Around 22 firefighters were called to the scene to tackle the blaze, and while the cause is not yet known, it is simply the latest blaze to blight Kent farmland.

And there could be more to come.

Guy Smith, NFU deputy president, said: “With much of the country affected by this remarkable run of weather – hot weather, high temperatures and lack of rain – we’re seeing widespread tinderbox conditions.

“That’s leading to a significant increase in the numbers of wild fires such as the ones on Saddleworth Moor, Winter Hill and Marlow and that risk is only going to increase as crops ripen over the next two weeks.

“The NFU is urging everyone out and about enjoying the iconic British countryside to act responsibly and avoid lighting fires and ensure cigarettes and barbecues are put out properly.

“Please follow the Countryside Code and report any fires or any activities which could cause fires to the emergency services.

“Farmers should also take extra precautions given the increased risk such as having checked fire extinguishers on all vehicles involved in the harvest campaign and to put firebreaks in around fields as soon as they are harvested.”

Where are the ‘severe risk’ areas in Kent?

According to the England and Wales Fire Severity Index (FSI), the risk is considered ‘very high’ in nearly all parts of mainland Kent.

The Met Office’s FSI assess how severe a fire could become if one were to start, it is not an assessment of the risk of wildfires occuring.

Moderate risk areas

Most of Thanet and a few smaller areas, including:

  • Hythe
  • Ramsgate
  • Broadstairs
  • Margate
  • Birchington
  • Herne Bay
  • Westgate

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High risk areas

Parts of a few areas, including:

  • Whitstable
  • Fordwich
  • Parts of Sheppey
  • Parts of Canterbury
  • Dover
  • Tunbridge Wells

Very high risk areas

Everywhere else in Kent, including:

  • Folkestone
  • Ashford
  • Maidstone
  • Medway
  • Sevenoaks
  • Tonbridge
  • The Weald
  • Sheerness
  • Isle of sheppey
  • Northfleet
  • Orpington

Weather and grass fires facts

The Met Office says the weather plays a crucial role in determining fire conditions generally.

Fire behaviour within grass is greatly affected by how cured it is – in other words, what proportion of the grass is dead as opposed to green.

Annual grasses, which complete their lifecycle within a year, tend to have shallower roots and so cure more easily, leaving them more susceptible to burning.

Perennial grasses, which complete their lifecycle over a number of years, tend to have deeper roots which can draw more moisture from deeper soil and so cure differently.

Weather and the seasons determine the state of vegetation, including grasses.

The moisture content of dead grasses and litter is significantly affected by the moisture content in the air, or relative humidity.

On a warm day with low humidity, litter and dead grasses can become very dry by midday to early afternoon.

This leads to a peak in fire potential at this time of day and the likelihood of being able to ignite a fire increases significantly.

‘More needs to be done as matter of urgency’

Guy Smith, NFU deputy president, added: “We also want National Park Authorities, councils, AONBs and Natural England to work in partnership to mitigate the risks.

“The NFU also believes that there must be an urgent review of the fire severity index, which determines when some areas can be closed due to fire risk.

“Numerous areas of the country have experienced exceptional fires this summer which this index has not recognised. This demonstrates the need to review the index to ensure that those areas can be closed in exceptional circumstances in the interest of the safety of the public, landowners and occupiers.”