On Saturday 30 May, firefighters from Surrey Fire and Rescue Service tackled a fire over the course of the weekend which started in the undergrowth on a large heath in Thursley Common and spread rapidly. Firefighter Emily Butler, based at Chelsea Fire Station, was at home at her family farm in Thursley village when a local farmer called and said that flames were spreading towards houses that back onto the common and in the direction of the farmer’s land. With nine years of experience and training under her belt, she went out to help.
Emily said: “We both have slurry spreaders which we were able to fill with at least 9000 litres of water and spray out of the back. Surrey fire crews had extinguished part of the fire that had made it up to the road and when they realised what the tractors could do, they welcomed our help.”
“I took a three metre flail, which is like a very large hedge cutter, on the back of a tractor and started clearing a fire break to slow the spread of the fire.”
On Sunday morning, the wind had picked up and the fire was spreading rapidly. Emily took a tractor and worked to scope safe paths to get fire vehicles down to reach the fire. Her brother, dad, mum, sister and local farmers continued to do what they could to assist firefighters and delivered food and drinks donated by the village. By late Sunday evening, the fire was under control.
Emily said: “Sadly, 150 hectares of Thursley and Elstead Commons were lost to the fire; however, we were told potentially a further 100 hectares would have been destroyed if it had not been for our collective efforts. The fire service did an incredible job and we worked incredibly hard as a team.
“Wildfires have been all too common during the summer months and due to the amount of people the nature reserve draws in, fires are getting more common. Unfortunately, some people don’t realise how quickly dry grass can catch alight from a discarded cigarette butt or a disposable BBQ.”
Emily has lived on her family farm all her life, with it being passed down through the family from her Grandad. When she is not on duty, she often gets involved looking after the animals on the farm and helping with the tractor work.
She added: “I use the common most days, whether to walk my dog, go running or to train with the Antarctic Fire Angels, so it will be nice to watch everything grow back over the next year. Hopefully it will flourish again soon.”
Brigade top tips on grass fires:
- Avoid having barbecues in parks and public spaces
- Clear away bottles, glasses and any broken glass to avoid them magnifying the sun and starting a fire.
- Dispose of smoking materials such as cigarettes safely- don’t drop cigarettes on dry ground and don’t drop them out of car windows, as they may land on dry grass and lead to a fire.
- Never leave barbecues unattended and extinguish them properly after you have finished using them.
- Disposable barbecues that have been discarded and abandoned can still end up causing a fire as they will continue to retain heat after use – they need to be put right out and cooled before being thrown away.
- Do not barbecue on balconies, the wind can carry smouldering ash onto nearby grassland.
- If you’re barbecuing near dry grass have a bucket of water or sand nearby for emergency use.
- Be aware that children, animals, balls or anything else may knock over barbecues, increasing the risk of grass fires, especially when in a busy parks or public spaces.
- Explain to children the dangers of playing with and lighting fires.