BARNSLEY residents considering lighting a disposable barbecue when returning to the town’s outdoor beauty spots have been urged to refrain - after emergency services rushed to put out a ‘near-catastrophic’ blaze last weekend.

Crews from the town were part of a team involved in tackling fast-spreading flames which resulted in an estimated 1,500 hectares - the equivalent of almost 2,000 football pitches - of moorland near Holmfirth being ruined last year and sprang into action again on Saturday.

Firefighters joined gamekeepers and farmers near High Bradfield, on the edge of the Peak District, to combat the fire which eyewitnesses claimed was caused by a barbecue.

Simon Gurney, of The Moorland Association, said: “Yet again a disaster has been averted thanks to the efforts of gamekeepers and land managers who are there, round the clock, to tackle this kind of outbreak.

“We were lucky this time that there was not a southerly wind to fan the flames up over the edge to the heather tops. That would have been an unstoppable inferno due to the massive fuel load that the government has allowed to build up alongside inaction to mitigate wildfire.

In Text Promo Image

“The huge private investment in firefighting equipment and gamekeeper expertise is totally undervalued, but perhaps the disaster averted will bring into sharp focus the lessons that must now be learned and acted upon.

“These landscapes must be managed by man, or wildfire will manage them for us.”

Given the severity of grassland fires in Barnsley last year, which saw more than 1,000 reports being made with a particular rise between May and August, Phil Hollingsworth, service director for safer, stronger and healthier communities at the council, appealed to the public to take responsibility.

“As well as the obvious dangers to people and the potentially huge financial cost to property damage, putting out grassland fires takes up fire crews’ valuable time which could be needed elsewhere to save a life,” he added.

“Much of the grassed areas the council own are also important wildlife habitats, not only offering safe havens for ground-nesting birds and small mammals, but they are also rich in invertebrate food and home to many pollinating insects.

“Given how easily fires can be accidentally started by disposable barbecues, we urge the public to seriously consider the likely consequences of their actions before purposefully lighting one.”

Swathes of Barnsley’s countryside land is owned by Yorkshire Water, where it is illegal to use disposable barbecues or start any fire, although barbecues are permitted in some other council-owned areas.

Lisa Harrowsmith, land and property lead surveyor for Yorkshire Water, added: “It is illegal to have barbecues on moorland and we have seen recently the huge damage they can cause.

“Wildfires are not only dangerous but devastate local ecosystems in many ways. They can destroy peat soils formed over thousands of years, which results in loss of valuable habitat and wildlife such as birds, reptiles and insects.

“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.

“Our 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.”