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Stark new statistics highlight scale of Highland wildfires

By Philip Murray

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A firefighter tackling a wildfire on moorland between Daviot Wood and Milton of Leys. Picture: Gary Anthony.
A firefighter tackling a wildfire on moorland between Daviot Wood and Milton of Leys. Picture: Gary Anthony.

A wildfire was detected every day on average across Scotland during the peak of last year's season ­– with the Highlands hit by almost a third of all blazes.

Almost 140 wildfires were detected across Scotland during last year's wildfire season – with the Highland Council area being by far the worst affected local authority.

Fifty separate wildfires were recorded in the Highlands in 2023's wildfire season – including massive blazes at Cannich near Inverness and on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, which involved hundreds of firefighters and community partners.

And in April the region was so badly affected that in that single month it recorded almost a fifth of Scotland's entire total for the whole of 2023.

The stark figures have prompted a plea from firefighters for the public to take extra care when outdoors, with many wildfires often started by human carelessness.

There were 133 recorded incidents of wildfires in Scotland during last year's wildfire season, which typically runs from March to June. Three further incidents were recorded outside that window.

A total of 48 of those wildfires were recorded in the category for the largest area of damage, spreading to more than a hectare each.

Speaking as Scotland’s national fire and rescue service launched its wildfire prevention campaign, Deputy Assistant Chief Officer (DACO) Bruce Farquharson, SFRS Wildfire Lead said: “Wildfires are extremely dangerous as they can spread rapidly over many hectares of land.

“Careless behaviour is often the root cause of wildfires which have the potential to burn for days or weeks, placing a significant drain on our crews.

“With sensible precautions, the public can play a crucial part in preventing wildfires from damaging wildlife, environment and rural communities.”

When Scotland is most at risk of wildfires, SFRS' crews are notified by the Scottish Wildfire Forum who issue a wildfire danger assessment which highlights the areas most likely to be affected.

DACO Farquharson added: “When there is an active wildfire warning in place, we would ask people not to start a fire outdoors.

“Even with the best of intentions, there is still a risk that fire can spread. For example, if you light a campfire and don’t fully extinguish it before you leave, it can have devastating consequences.

“People should also ensure other items such as cigarettes are disposed of safely and responsibly.”

The SFRS wants the public to better understand the conditions which wildfires thrive in.

During the colder months, frost can remove the moisture from vegetation on the ground and leave it tinder dry.

Similarly in the spring or summer, very warm and dry conditions can leave the ground primed to fuel a fire.

Strong winds added to any of the conditions above can determine how much a wildfire spreads.

More practical tips and guidance, as well as any active Wildfire Danger Assessments, can be found on the wildfire section of the SFRS website.

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