Shortage of rainfall prompts fire fears

A SEVERE shortage of rainfall has left tinder-dry Suffolk vulnerable to raging heath and woodland infernos, fire chiefs revealed today.

A SEVERE shortage of rainfall has left tinder-dry Suffolk vulnerable to raging heath and woodland infernos, fire chiefs revealed today.

The stark warning comes after two hectares of gorse and wildlife were devastated by a massive blaze - thought to be started deliberately - in Martlesham on Wednesday night.

Already this year, crews have been dispatched to more than 100 similar incidents, prompting fears that the summer months could see a repeat of 2006 when the fire service was overwhelmed by the volume of call-outs.

Today, Ipswich district commander Geoff Pyke urged the public to act responsibly and vigilantly.

“From January this year we have had 122 fires involving undergrowth, heathland and scrubland which is an awful lot already,” he said. “The majority of these are deliberate and this is completely irresponsible behaviour.

“If this continues, this summer could be a repeat of three years ago.”

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He said Wednesday's blaze could have had more serious consequences.

“The origin of the fire was most likely to be deliberate. We found remnants of where youths have been drinking and started a bonfire.

“Had the fire been closer to properties, the consequences of a moment of stupidity would have had grave results.”

Evening Star weatherman Ken Blowers said the last significant rainfall in the county came three months ago, while above-average levels of sunshine in April have contributed to the dry conditions.

“The fire risk increases as the days get warmer and warmer,” he said.

“April was also one of the sunniest ever with about 200 hours of sunshine, way above average, and that really dries out the land.

“You have to go back a long way for the last substantial rainfall. On February 9, we had 20 hours of rain, with a total of 1.12 inches falling.

“But during the whole of April, there was only half an inch of rain - the average for the month should have been 1.68 inches - and we have had no rain at all this month.”

He said there was no substantial rainfall forecast and revealed that Wednesday had brought the warmest weather of the year so far, with temperatures reaching 68F/20C - well above average.

Mr Blowers added: “There will be a few showers but no quantity of rain is forecast.”

According to the Met Office, the lack of rain could well continue into the summer months, with experts predicting a scorching June, July and August.

Anyone who would like to report an arson should call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

Is the dry weather affecting you? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

THIS year's particularly dry weather is also bad news for farmers.

John Collen, chairman of the Suffolk National Farmers' Union, said crops had been seriously affected by the shortage of rainfall.

“The spring crops are suffering very badly,” he said.

“Peas, sugar beet and spring barley are all desperate for rain and potatoes are, too.

“Last April was very wet and that meant that the last harvest was one of the biggest for a very long time. It begs the question what this year's will be like.

“Some farmers have winter reservoirs which mean they are able to irrigate at this time of year but they are very expensive to install.

“Most are relying on the almighty above to supply a plentiful rainfall.”

Meanwhile, Wednesday's blaze, which could be seen from Felixstowe, has devastated the plethora of wildlife which would have inhabited the area affected.