There’s a high risk of wildfire in many mountain areas, including large parts of the Scottish Highlands. Here’s how you can reduce the risk
Today, BBC Scotland reported that firefighters are working to put out three large wildfires in different parts of the Highlands: a heath fire near Sligachan on Skye, plus fires in Torridon and Strathcarron. A helicopter was called in to waterbomb the fire at Upper Diabaig.
A lengthy spell of dry weather – which has, luckily, coincided with this year’s TGO Challenge – has dried out damp ground in the mountains and increased the risk of fires breaking out.
1. Understand the risk
Any vegetation can burn: heather, trees, undergrowth, even green grass. Unless you are on a particularly rocky part of a hill, there’s a chance that a wildfire in the area could affect you (and even then, the smoke from a nearby fire could be an issue). Fire can move rapidly, especially when fanned by a wind. The most dangerous conditions are dry, hot and windy.
While most fires are started by people, lightning can also provide the crucial spark. If thunderstorms are forecast in your area, consider staying off the hill.
2. Don’t light fires
This is perhaps obvious, but it’s worth repeating nevertheless: don’t light fires! While this remains good practice at all times of year, it’s doubly important when conditions are dry. In resinous soils, such as in pinewoods, fire can continue to burn underground even when you think it’s out.
If you must light a fire, build a small self-contained fire pit, don’t leave it unattended during use, put it out with plenty of water, and restore the ground to the same condition you found it in. Do not leave a fire scar on the surface. Bury or scatter widely any ashes when cold.
It’s very important to leave no trace, because a fire scar could encourage others – who may not be as skilled – to build a fire of their own.
3. Be careful with cigarettes, BBQs and stoves
If you smoke, or if you’re enjoying a roadside BBQ in this beautiful weather, it’s worth paying special attention that all possible sources of fire are extinguished. Don’t drop cigarette ends, keep BBQs elevated from the ground and fully extinguish them after use, and make sure the same caution extends to every member of your party. Do not spill any liquid fuel. Make sure you have water on hand.
Even backpacking stoves can be a risk, especially meths burners or petrol stoves, both of which involve liquid fuel open to the air at one point or another in the process. In wildfire conditions, an upright canister stove can be a safer choice. Clear a patch of ground around your cooking area and consider using a foil stove base to protect the ground from your burner.
As with open fires, never leave a BBQ or stove unattended.
4. If you see a fire, dial 999
If you see a fire of any size, dial 999 immediately and ask for the fire service.
5. If a fire overtakes you on the hill, seek safety
Fires can move with astonishing speed in the right conditions. If there’s a fire in the distance, monitor the situation, and if it gets closer think about escape routes or areas that could provide shelter: windblown rocky ridges that will shelter you from both flames and smoke, or (as a last resort) a beck or stream. While sheltering in a sufficiently wide streambed should protect you from the fire, smoke still poses a serious risk. It’s better to put as much distance between you and the fire as possible.
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