Scotland remains at significant risk of wildfire ahead of Easter weekend, the country’s fire and rescue service has warned.
While areas of countryside continue to see reduced footfall due to social distancing restrictions, people who live within or who may enter any rural environments have been warned to exercise extreme caution.
Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Area Commander Bruce Farquharson has stressed that Scotland’s countryside is “vulnerable” to fire.
A spate of wildfires could place unnecessary pressure on the emergency services as they already work to support partners and protect the public amid the Coronavirus pandemic.
Area Commander Farquharson, who is also chair of the Scottish Wildfire Forum, said: “This is clearly an unprecedented time for the country, and a challenging period for the emergency services.
“While social restrictions should continue to see a reduction in the number of people in the countryside, the threat of wildfire undoubtedly remains.
“At the start of spring there is often a lot of dead vegetation left over from last year which essentially acts as a fuel for fire.
“We have also witnessed a spell of dry weather recently, and traditionally this time of year is our peak for large, challenging wildfires.
“Put simply - our countryside is vulnerable, and has all of the ingredients for fire to take hold.”
He told how two of the UK’s largest wildfires in living memory – at Thurso in the Highlands, and Aberlour in Moray – devastated vast areas and drew upon huge volumes of emergency service resources.
AC Farquharson added: “You only have to look back to last year, when these fires took hold at Moray and Thurso. It took over a week on each occasion to bring both fires under control – which had a phenomenal knock-on impact on our entire structure right across Scotland.
“There is very little moisture on the ground just now and an abundance of dead material, and this fuel has dried out quickly with milder temperatures and lower humidity levels.
“This creates a worrying melting pot of dry material mixed with oxygen in the air – all that’s missing is the ignition.”
AC Farquharson appealed to the public to take all available precautions. “This ignition, of course, can come in a variety of ways – but we can all play our part to reduce this risk,” he said.
“Human behaviour can significantly lower the chance of a wildfire starting, so it is crucial that people act safely and responsibly in rural environments, and always follow the countryside code.
“There may be less people in the countryside, but even something such a hot exhaust or a discarded cigarette can ignite long, dry grass, and this can quickly escalate to extreme wildfires.”
During the Spring period last year, SFRS crews worked tirelessly to tackle and contain more than 2,000 fires involving grasslands, woodlands and crops – three times as many as the same period in 2018.
AC Farquharson continued: “We would always stress the importance of being vigilant in areas of countryside, but right now we are in a unique and testing period for all emergency services.
“Livestock, farmland, wildlife, protected woodland and sites of special scientific interest can be devastated by wildfires – as can the lives of people living and working in rural communities.
“We will always do our utmost to protect our communities, and to save life and property from harm at all times – but we also need the public to help us.”
The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service works closely with land managers, communities and other safety partners to prevent these incidents occurring. For further advice and information about wildfires and how to prevent them visit: