The Fire Brigades Union has warned that cuts to its service is a serious threat on how it can tackle the increasing number of wildfires in Scotland.
This week, firefighters have battled a wildfire that started burning on Sunday afternoon near Cannich, south of Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. 7,400 hectares have burned so far, with images of the 22-mile long plume of smoke captured by NASA from space.
Two firefighters injured tackling the blaze have since been released from hospital.
Wildfires require a significant number of firefighters to respond due to the extensive terrain, physically demanding work over long periods of time, transporting equipment by hand while being exposed to significant temperatures.
A decade of budget cuts has left Fire and Rescue Services stretched for resources while climate related incidents have increased in frequency and severity. July 2022 saw the temperature in parts of the UK exceed 40 degrees centigrade for the first time in recorded history, increasing the risk of wildfires.
Last week the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service announced further cuts on top of a decade of austerity. These cuts will see the loss of ten fire appliances, reducing fire cover and impacting firefighters’ ability to respond to incidents.
Since 2010, 11,500 firefighters have been cut across the UK, and Scotland alone has lost 1,100 firefighters since 2013.
Matt Wrack, FBU General Secretary said:
“Throughout this week, firefighters in Scotland have bravely battled what is now believed to be one of the biggest wildfires in UK history and which can be seen from space.
“Two of our members have already been injured working in these extreme conditions. Thankfully both have now returned home. However, this shows us the real dangers of the climate emergency.
“Wildfires, such as the ones we are seeing in Cannich at the moment, are on the rise year on year. All governments must heed this stark warning: the climate crisis is here now. We need urgent climate action to prevent loss of life, and that must also involve serious investment in our fire services.”
The Cannich burn area covers approximately fifteen square kilometres (approx. 1,500 hectares). At its height, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) mobilised nine appliances and a number of other resources to bring the fire under control. The emergency response included the use of helicopters to water bomb the affected area.
SFRS has also received invaluable partnership support from Forestry & Land Scotland, the RSPB and representatives from the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), who have provided personnel and specialist equipment throughout the incident.
As the warm and dry weather continues, so too does the risk of wildfire.
A wildfire warning, graded as ‘very high’, remains in place across many parts of East, Central and Southern Scotland until Monday, 5 June.
Members of the public in these areas are being urged to act safely and responsibly in rural environments and follow the countryside code.