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Fires, heat warnings and storms threaten tinder-dry UK

The National logo The National 12/08/2022 Simon Rushton

A string of fires have broken out across the UK as unprecedented heat and tinder-dry conditions combined to create a perfect environment for blazes, as drought orders kicked into force.

Temperatures into Saturday are expected to soar into the mid-30s and amber heat warnings have been announced barely a month after the UK reported record highs.

Continental Europe is facing a similar situation, with wildfires raging in Spain, Portugal and France. Germany has reported Rhine River water levels are almost critically low and Italy has similar worries about Lake Garda, while Switzerland has flown water to Alpine meadows for thirsty animals.

The UK Met Office announced an extreme heat warning for parts of central and southern England and Wales until midnight on Sunday, with temperatures as high as 36°C on Saturday and Sunday, before returning to the low 30s by Monday.

Despite the risk of “torrential downpours” during storms, Met Office meteorologist Steven Keates said: “It'll take more than a couple of wet days to redress the effects of the long dry spell we've had so far.”

John Curtin, executive director for local operations at the Environment Agency, said it would take “weeks' worth of rain” to replenish water sources.

A woman shelters from the sun on Tower Bridge, in London. Britain is braced for another heatwave that will last longer than July's record-breaking hot spell. AP

A woman shelters from the sun on Tower Bridge, in London. Britain is braced for another heatwave that will last longer than July's record-breaking hot spell. AP
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Some areas have been almost completely deprived of rainfall all summer, prompting the National Drought Group — made up of representatives from the government, water companies, the Environment Agency and others — to move parts of south-western, southern, central and eastern England into official drought status on Friday.

The announcement could lead to more measures such as hosepipe bans, but the Environment Agency has reassured the public that essential water supplies are safe.

“Mainly it is a signal that this is not a normal summer now, so that water will be an issue and probably will be an issue for months ahead, depending how the winter goes,” Mr Curtin said.

He also said any storms next week would not be enough to counter the dry spell that is afflicting the country.

“Don't think that will stop the drought,” he said. “It'll take weeks of rain, we'll need probably average or slightly above average rainfall this autumn into this winter for us to not be in a drought next year.”

Thunderstorm warnings are in place for Scotland and Northern Ireland on Sunday, before extending to include Wales and north, central and south-western England on Monday.

Emergency services in Derbyshire on Friday were tackling three “significant” fires in Matlock; Creswell, Worksop; and near Junction 26 of the M1.

Video shared online shows fire filling the horizon at the Creswell blaze, with large plumes of smoke in the sky.

Oli Mousley, 19, a law student who lives in the village, said there was also “ash floating around” in the residential area and a “strong smell of burning”.

In London, fire crews beat back flames at a wildlife reserve in East London. There was a second blaze in Merton, in the south of the capital, where four engines and about 25 firefighters have been deployed.

“There are still high temperatures forecast, especially for the coming days, and the ground remains dry,” a London Fire Brigade representative said.

“Grass will be tinder dry after periods of hot weather, so please don't have barbecues in parks and public spaces.”

South-west of London, fire crews fought a blaze involving 800 tonnes of straw in Overton, near Basingstoke. Hampshire and the Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service also said a woodland area caught fire in Beaulieu, in the New Forest National Park, believed to have been caused by a campfire or barbecue.

The areas under drought conditions are Hertfordshire and North London, Devon and Cornwall, Solent and South Downs, Kent and South London, East Anglia, Thames, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire, and East Midlands.

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