BBQ risk in the spotlight in Moorland wildfire campaign

Land and fire chiefs have issued a stark warning to people not to use disposable BBQs or light fires in the countryside, as Easter weather threatens to lure people into moorland areas susceptible to devastating wildfires.

A disposable BBQ on Darwen Moor last year sparked a wildfire that was out of control in seconds and raged for days, laying waste to hundreds acres of countryside and killing globally threatened species.

Already this year, wardens and landowners are finding evidence of BBQs across the fragile Pennine moorlands and say people are taking risks with their lives, the environment and possibly their liberty.

Despite being completely unintentional, the Darwen fire landed two men facing court. Both recently started reparation work on damaged moorland to help the recovery effort and help spread the word about the danger.

The story of the Darwen Moor fire is now being used as part of a public information campaign to warn people not to use BBQs on the moorland under any circumstances because of the ever-present risk of starting an uncontrollable fire.

A video, countryside signs and social media advertising, are being used to show the devastation the fire caused and areas which could take a generation to recover.

It is being fronted by landowners United Utilities, Lords Hall Estates and Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, who were all seriously affected by the incident last May.

The message is that a moment’s inattention could happen to anyone and there is no safe way to light a fire, or use a BBQ, on the moors. Tinderbox-dry grass and the moorland environment, sudden winds and peaty soils mean fires start with a single spark and are literally out of control in seconds.

United Utilities’ Catchment Manager Matt Upton, who helped organise support for the firefighting effort using helicopters and bowsers to bring additional water to the site said many people used BBQs without understanding the risks.

It’s an issue the firm’s countryside teams come across every year, including already in 2021 at Dove Stone, near Saddleworth, and most recently on neighbouring land at Marsden Moor.

“Last year’s fire was exhausting and shocking to see. From United Utilities’ perspective we have invested a lot of time, money and effort improving the moors, as have the other landowners who were affected. One of the biggest fears was that it’s public open space and there could have been a risk to life as well,” said Matt.

“The moors are recovering but as we approach the drier weather again there’s always the risk this could happen again. They clearly didn’t intend to do any harm, but it still happened.

“We find spent BBQs evidence of fires every year. People do not realise the risk they’re taking. Our advice is never to light fires. The conditions up here are totally different and you’re a long way from help. Come and enjoy the countryside but respect it and leave it as you would want to find it.”

James Readfern, conservation manager of Lords Hall Estate said: “We lost 625 acres of pristine blanket bog. So, this is going to take perhaps a generation to repair. “

Fire station manager Rob Harvey, who is Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service’s Wildfire Tactical Advisor, said: “Within 20 or 30 minutes we had a significant fire that was going over the crest of the hill, spreading beyond, onto the moorland.

“We attended the fire for four days so, massive impact to a fire and rescue service.

“People don’t understand the risks caused by a simple, small but disposable BBQ. Not just to the people involved but to the responders, the wildlife, everything. If you’re going to access the moorland do it safely, but certainly don’t take BBQs onto the open moor. You won’t put these fires out. It’s just not worth it.”

To view the campaign video go to: