As the UK braces itself for weeks of hot, dry weather, leading rural insurer NFU Mutual is making a plea for homeowners and holidaymakers across the UK to practice good fire safety and leave barbecues at home for the time being.

Droughts and heatwaves in the spring and summer have already resulted in many gorse and grass fires across the UK, from Cornwall to Scotland.

In the hot, dry conditions expected throughout the country in the coming weeks, these fires can spread quickly and are difficult to put out, causing devastating damage to vast areas of the British countryside and coastland, destroying natural habitats and endanger wildlife.

Many of the recent large grass or gorse fires have been linked to disposable barbecues and fire pits. Wildfires at Northern Ireland’s Murlough National Nature Reserve and in Salisbury Plain earlier this year, linked to disposable barbecues and fire pits, prompted NFU Mutual to plead with visitors to the countryside not to light barbecues and fires.

Following further blazes connected to barbecues in Bristol and Dorset in the past few days, the leading rural insurer is once again making a plea for visitors and the rural community alike not to light barbecues in the countryside.

Andrew Chalk, rural insurance specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “There are countless examples this year alone of large fires quickly spreading throughout the countryside, causing devastating damage to countryside, coastland and natural habitats.

“An out of control fire can also spread to farms, potentially causing thousands of pounds worth of damage by destroying crops or putting livestock risk.

“As we’ve seen this year, these fires increase in the kind of hot, dry conditions we’re expecting to see in the coming weeks, which will turn many areas of the countryside into a tinderbox where one spark could trigger a destructive blaze.

“So we’re imploring those who live in the countryside and those who are visiting to enjoy the hot weather to act responsibly and considerately in the coming weeks. Please don’t use disposable barbecues, light firepits or build open fires, as these can spit sparks and also smoulder for hours after you leave.

“People should also avoid dropping matches or cigarettes, both of which create a significant risk, and take home bottles and other litter, which can start fires by acting as a focus for sunlight.”

Fire safety at home

Heatwaves also bring greater risk of fire closer to home, both in the house and garden, particularly where low rainfall and the possibility of restricted water use make conditions dry.

Andrew Chalk said: “Having just experienced England’s driest July for a century, and the UK’s driest for almost 40 years, it’s more important than ever to practice good fire safety.

“The most obvious risk is open flames. In this weather, a spark from a barbecue or a smouldering match or cigarette could start a raging fire which is difficult to contain.

“We wouldn’t recommend barbecuing in the current conditions, but those who do should situate the barbecue away from the house and away from dry grass, shrubbery or bushes and regularly clean their barbecues of ash and old grease, which increase the likelihood of dangerous sparks. Similarly, matches and cigarettes should be disposed of in fire-proof containers like ashtrays.

“Homeowners should also make sure they are practicing sensible fire safety measures when it comes to electronics. Keep electronic devices away from direct sunlight and make sure they do not become too hot when charging, and never overload sockets.

“If you are lucky enough to have an air conditioning unit, keep it free of dry dust which could catch alight.

“By taking sensible precautions, people can protect their homes and possessions by preventing the cause of fire, but it is also worth having a chat to your insurer to make sure you are adequately insured should the worse happen.”

Keep safe this summer

Advice from NFU Mutual

NFU Mutual countryside fire checklist:

  • Don’t drop used matches or cigarettes – they can smoulder and start a fire
  • Don’t start campfires or use disposable barbecues on grass, moorland or in forests
  • Call 999 if you spot a fire while out in the countryside
  • Avoid parking in narrow country lanes where emergency services vehicle access could be blocked
  • Don’t drop litter – discarded bottles can focus sunlight and start a fire
  • Keep to footpaths when walking in the countryside

At home:

  • Don’t overload plug sockets – this can increase the chance of sparks
  • Keep an eye on charging electrical devices to ensure they do not get too hot
  • Avoid leaving electrical devices out in the sun
  • Dispose of matches and cigarettes in a fireproof container
  • Keep air conditioning units free of dust, which can build up and be a fire hazard
  • If barbecuing, ensure the barbecue is regularly cleaned and keep it away from dry grass, shrubbery or bushes. Do not barbecue in an enclosed area or too close to the house

More information about safety in the countryside is available from NFU Mutual’s website: