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Unattended BBQ
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Fire believed to have been caused by an unattended BBQ

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The suspected cause of the fire, a disposable BBQ.

The suspected cause of the fire, a disposable BBQ. 

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ESFRS Land Rover at the spot where the fire appeared to have started.

ESFRS Land Rover at the spot where the fire appeared to have started.

How this fire happened

This fire was believed to have been caused by a BBQ that was left unattended.

East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service had to commit 13 appliances which were tied up for over 20 hours.

The vast majority of forest and bush fires are caused by people and whilst some are due to deliberate fire setting or arson, most are accidental caused by carelessness.

Fires starting by natural causes such as lightening are extremely rare in the UK.

Causes of forest/heath fires:

  • Careless/illegal use of camp fires and barbecues.
  • Carelessly discarded lit cigarettes from walkers or passing vehicles.
  • Carelessly discarded glass bottles/jars intensifying the suns rays. In the right conditions, curved glass will magnify and focus the suns radiated heat, particularly if liquid is remaining in the bottle. This enables the glass to act in a similar way to a magnifying glass.
  • Carelessly discarded metal. Curved highly polished metal objects, such as the base of an aerosol canister will work in a similar manner to glass bottles and magnifying glasses in the right conditions.

Fires that occur in late spring and summer can have a catastrophic effect on the local wildlife. Many wild animals, most of which will have young at this time of year, will be killed or have their nests and food sources destroyed.

Fanned by the wind, forest/heath fires can spread rapidly causing immense damage with even small fires quickly getting out of control. Properties and homes on or near the forest are put in danger and roads have to be closed for safety reasons and to allow access for emergency vehicles. These fires also put Fire & Rescue Service resources and Forest Rangers under considerable strain.

It can take several years for trees and wildlife populations to recover after a fire.

The effect it had

From the Ashdown Forest Rangers:

This fire was extremely damaging for the following reasons

  • It caused extensive damage to the heath and general habitat.
  • It would have killed or badly injured numerous slow-moving or sedentary animals.
  • Pollution from this fire contaminated the Heathlands soil, which acted as a carbon 'sink'.

Safety message

  • Extinguish cigarettes properly and don't throw cigarette ends on the ground
  • Avoid using open fires in the countryside - check local bylaws.
  • Don't leave bottles or glass in woodland - sunlight shining through glass can start fires. Take your rubbish home with you or use waste bins.
  • Only use barbecues in a suitable and safe area and never leave them unattended - check local bylaws before use.
  • If you see a fire in the countryside, report it to the Fire and Rescue Service immediately
  • Don't attempt to tackle fires that can't be put out quickly and easily with a bucket of water - leave the area as soon as possible

Further information

Do you have a similar story?

We would be interested to hear from you if you have had a similar experience to the fire detailed above, or would like to raise any related matters or even just generally comment on how useful you found our Black Museum.

Please send us your details and a comments via our on-line feedback form.

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Latest Update :
03 February 2015
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