This week in Parliament, I have been working with cross-party MPs whose constituencies have been affected by the recent wildfires, following the heat wave that has gripped the country over these past few weeks.
Having served as an Environment Secretary, I am aware of the difficulties the authorities face in managing prolonged dry periods and the fire risk that dry natural tinder such as forestry and moorlands pose to local communities.
Whilst many of these fires have started naturally, there have sadly been some acts of deliberate fire starting across England – including recent small-scale incidents in the borough which are inexcusable. They pose a significant risk to the public and property and, place unnecessary strain on our fire and rescue service. For that reason, I would encourage anyone with information about the deliberate lighting of fires on parkland near Forth Drive in Chelmsley Wood this week to pass information to the police via 101.
That said, the question for many MPs in Parliament this week is what can we do as legislators to better prevent wildfires and support the fire services in tackling these blazes?
In Greater Manchester, which saw the worst of these fires, the Government did work with the regional Mayor and tasked the Army with providing them additional support. As a result, I am pleased to say that the fires were soon brought under control and this particular fire has since been extinguished.
However, among backbench MPs, further consideration is also being given to the regulation of sky lanterns, also known as Chinese lanterns, at events in rural areas this summer. For example, word that an American company, which recently organised several events to simultaneously release thousands of Chinese lanterns in the Peak District refused to cancel – despite concerns being voiced in the community about the genuine risk of these lanterns causing wildfires – is deeply concerning.
Therefore I have joined with colleagues from both the Labour and Conservative parties to urge the Government to ban flame-powered sky lanterns being used at large scale events to reduce this risk. Many fire rescue services across the country have already voiced their opposition to their use during hot/dry periods and I am proud to support their calls by supporting EDM 1507 – ‘Flame Powered Sky Lanterns’
Dame Caroline Spelman MP