The current period of hot weather is for most a welcome change from the dreadful summers of recent years. The vast majority relish the opportunity to get outdoors and enjoy the sunshine while it lasts. The longest heatwave for seven years is forecast to continue into this week – but the blazing temperatures and high humidity will bring the risk of widespread rain and thunderstorms.
It will take a lot of rain to reverse the parch dry conditions affecting many areas as the heavy rain falling on bone hard ground will simply run off and as the hot July sun returns the ground will quickly dry out. Over the past weeks the fire services have dealt with hundreds if not thousands of grass and heath fires. It is not just the grasslands at risk but also our forests where a stray cigarette butt, discarded bottle or barbeque can easily start a fire. Farmers are also in the middle of harvesting wheat and barley fields that are now like a tinderbox.
Many areas at risk are remote and not easily accessible to fire tenders or close to a water supply so I was interested to see on one news report that many fires were being fought with fire beaters – probably the oldest tool in the fire fighters armoury.
Before the development of modern fire beaters, sometimes called “swatters” or “flappers”, made from specialist fire resistant materials the ancients used wet green branches often taken from pine trees a method still used today and known as “wet sacking” the fire.
Fire beaters are designed for controlling and extinguishing minor fires in rural areas such as heaths farms and parklands and has a wide flexible blade with a long handle that allows fire fighters to stand well back from the fire. By beating the fire at its edge the oxygen supply to the fire is stopped and the fire extinguished. The action is a light swat rather than a vigorous swish that may just fan more oxygen on the burning embers. Normally fire beaters are not employed at the fires leading edge if the flames are higher than a meter or so or the wind is strong when the chance of a sudden wind gust could be dangerous.
If you are heading for the great outdoors be aware of the fire risk and act responsibly to protect yourself and others from the devastation that fire can bring.