WITH meteorologists suggesting the heatwave could last a few weeks longer, the threat of fires on our famous moors and uplands which could be started through illegal barbecues intensifies.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and the North Yorkshire Wildlife Group - made up of representatives from Yorkshire Water, Fire and Rescue Services, The Moorland Association, National Parks, Natural England and private landowners - has each issued warnings to visitors to be vigilant while they are enjoying the breathtaking surroundings to ensure they do not go up in smoke.

Sadly as has happened in the moorland fire outbreaks at Saddleworth and the more recent wildfires at Winter Hill, near Chorley, which is causing problems as peat continues to burn below ground.

One 22-year-old man was detained by police on suspicion of arson, in connection to the Winter Hill fire, while fire investigators are still trying to discover the cause of the blaze affecting Saddleworth Moor.

The recent warm, dry weather, coupled with low rainfall, means that, increasingly, conditions on the moors are becoming drier, according to Alan Hulme, head of park management for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority..

Warning notices are being put up around the national park rangers to drive the message home.

Mr Hulme said that, in these dry conditions, moorland fires could spread very quickly and could be devastating to the landscape and its wildlife, and especially, at this time of year, to ground nesting birds.

“We obviously want people to come and enjoy the Yorkshire Dales, but we would urge them to do what they can to help us prevent a fire from breaking out,” he said.

“Visitors should avoid lighting fires on or near the moorland and should not discard cigarettes, matches or glass bottles. And do not light any fires or barbecues on or near the moorland area.

“If you see a fire, report it immediately to the fire service by phoning 999 so that they can take appropriate action.”

North Yorkshire Wildfire Group has been issuing warnings of the risks to wildlife that barbecues can cause if allowed to set alight to the moorland

and is reminding people that, although barbecues are being sold it many supermarkets and stores, they are illegal to use on moorland because of the danger they pose to the flora and fauna when the ground is parched.

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In the past, barbecues, particularly disposable ones, have been left on the ground not properly extinguished, sparking wildfires.

Last month, in Harrogate, fire crews battled with a blaze on 100 square metres of grassland near Beckwithshaw, which required six fire engines on the scene. The cause of the fire was unknown.

Lisa Harrowsmith, Yorkshire Water’s land and property lead surveyor and secretary of the North Yorkshire Wildlife Group, said: “The North Yorkshire Wildfire Group’s aim is to reduce the incidents of wildfire, ensure best practice on current managed moors by gamekeepers, and minimise the impacts of wildfires when they do occur, particularly moorland and forest fires.”

The group is working closely with North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service which, including crews from Craven, has been helping tackle the Winter Hill fire.

The group’s plans are to ensure its wildfire procedures are up-to-date in the event any break out and include owner and occupiers contact details, local firefighting resources, as well as access and water supply information.

Several wildfires have broken out on Yorkshire Water land in recent years, and the company, as part of the group, is playing a key role in raising awareness of wildfire risks.

The firm has issued temporary warning signs to its moorland tenants to put up near public rights of way.

The moorlands in Calderdale, in neighbouring West Yorkshire, are considered one of the most notorious areas for wildfires in Yorkshire. Within the last ten years, wildfires have broken out that have damaged 3,000 hectares of land, equivalent to the size of over 4,000 football pitches.

Ms Harrowsmith added: “Wildfires are not only dangerous but devastate local ecosystems in many ways. For instance, the summer wildfires can destroy peat soils formed over thousands of years, which results in loss of valuable habitat and wildlife such as birds, reptiles and insects” much of it international importance.

In 2013, the last major moorland fire in Calderdale damaged nearly 1,000 hectares of land in Soyland and Rishworth, the equivalent of 140 full-sized football pitches. Large areas of peat bog and mature heathland were destroyed along with numerous birds’ nests.

Ms Harrowsmith also explained how wildfires can affect drinking water quality: “The source of much of the water we use in Yorkshire comes from our moorland catchment zones. The problem with wildfires is that they cause this land to dry out, which increases peat sediment getting into reservoirs and causes water colour problems. It is therefore vital that we limit their occurrences rather than having to keep paying more money to treat the water.”

Some areas of Open Access land within the Yorkshire Dales National Park are currently closed due to fire risk.

Weather conditions are constantly monitored by the Met Office and when the Fire Severity Index reaches ‘Exceptional’, its highest rating, it automatically triggers closures of Open Access Land.

More information about the Fire Severity Index is available on the Natural England website.

Access Land is divided up into land parcels and, as weather conditions can sometimes be very localised, not all Access Land may be closed at the same time.

Where access land is closed due to fire risk, it means that walkers are asked only to use public rights of way (footpaths, bridleways and byways) and are not able to leave these routes and enjoy the access areas.

If you are using public rights of way please remember the high fire risk and take particular care. Avoid lighting fires or barbecues and do not discard cigarettes or matches. Moorland fires can spread very quickly and can be devastating to the landscape and its wildlife.

The open access areas around Barden Fell and Barden Moor have also been closed temporarily while the threat of wildfires continues.