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Summer heatwave continues to push fire service

Cambridgeshire fire crews have continued to face challenging conditions and increased demand as the summer heatwave persists.  

Having already seen unprecedented temperatures and calls to incidents in July, which include the two busiest days ever for the Service, Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service staff have continued to face record levels of calls and incidents.  

Area Commander Stuart Smith said: “July pushed us to the limits as the heat not only made fire spread much easier, but placed significant physical demands on our crews responding to emergencies. Our call handlers in Combine Fire Control also faced unprecedented demand from residents in two counties, while also providing emergency fall back for other services.  

“So far August has placed similar demands on us, as the heat has been with us for a longer period of time. Since the start of the month our crews have attended more than 500 incidents, which is around 150 more than our five-year average. Many of these have been providing support to services across borders. A few days saw crews respond to nearly 50 incidents, double the average of 25 we would usually see.  

“Our Combined Fire Control has also been under intense pressure. Call handlers would usually expect to deal with around 850 calls from residents in both Cambridgeshire and Suffolk during this time of year. In Cambridgeshire alone they have dealt with more than 650 since the beginning of August. In total they’ve seen more than 1,200, with many significant field fires happening in Suffolk.” 

Firefighters have been to several fires in the open during this period of hot weather, which not only require multiple fire engines due to difficult water supplies, but also firefighters to tackle them and prevent the spread.  

Stuart added: “Almost half of these incidents were fires in the open, ranging from rubbish and trees alight to large areas of field and farming machinery. These fires are exacerbated by the dry conditions as the fire will spread very quickly and are often in areas where there is little or no water supply.  

“We saw last week where a seemingly small fire in a garden in Peterborough spread rapidly across the dry grass and ended up causing damage to a house. That’s how dangerous these conditions can be and how easy a fire can start, from a glass bottle not disposed of to a cigarette not being fully extinguished.” 

Crews and call handlers have been working exceptionally hard over this period of significant demand. 

Stuart said: “I am always impressed with how our staff step up and go the extra mile during times like this. Crews at stations have been working flat out throughout their shifts, balancing emergency response, training and delivering vital community safety work. Many have worked additional hours over and above their shifts. Equally our emergency call handlers have been flat out, dealing with call after call after call from residents in need across two counties. They are also ensuring fire engines are moved around the county to ensure fire engines are available throughout the county.  

“Our on-call staff have also been incredible during this period. Many have had to rearrange holiday plans, as well as juggle their regular day jobs and move commitments to step up and provide extra availability to crew fire engines. 

“We are always looking for people to join us and service their local community as an on-call firefighter. Anyone that lives or works within five minutes of their nearest on-call fire station and can give some availability should get in touch with us, or visit our website.” 

Although the temperatures look set to reduce over the coming days, the risk of fire still remains as the ground remains dry.  

Stuart concluded: “Looking ahead the weather forecast looks more favourable as temperatures start to drop. There is however still a risk, while the ground remains dry, that a fire could easily spread and cause significant damage and injury. We would still urge people across the county to stay fire safe and take some simple steps to avoid having a significant fire.”