DORSET will remain a fire risk this year, unless people who use disposable barbecues and light camp fires can be persuaded to act more responsibly.
Large areas of Wareham Forest were destroyed in a blaze last year which took weeks to put out in an operation costing £800,000, with dozens of other, smaller fires, also reported across the county.
This year more effort is to be put into educating people to think about safety, but Dorset Council will have virtually no powers and no specific budget for enforcement.
Councillors have been told that there is little point in using the legislation which is available, unless the money can be found to enforce it and that would mean employing new staff to keep an eye on thousands of acres of land which is open to the public.
As it stands, the council is likely to end this year with a £18million overspend and faces budget cuts in the coming financial year – despite a 5% increase in council tax.
Virtually the only legal route open to the council is to bring in Public Spaces Protection Orders where fixed penalty notices can be issued, but it can take up to 18 months before an order comes into effect. That option is being held in abeyance until 2022.
Several other ideas are being discussed include setting up designated BBQ areas, which are safe for open fires and include facilities to dispose of hot coals, although research has shown that these still create problems and many people are against beauty spots and parks being turned into areas which smell of smoke and roasting meat.
Dorset Council’s Place and Resources Committee heard that some areas in the county had already organised their own volunteer fire watch wardens, although they could only offer advice and have no powers. The idea could be expanded this year if funding can be found.
More education needed on fire risks
Cabinet member Cllr Ray Bryan said the county would again be putting up signs warning of the danger of barbecues and open fires, adding: “We will make sure we get the signs up everywhere.”
Several councillors said that, despite the signs and publicity, a number of people would simply ignore them, have their barbecue and then leave behind litter and the smouldering coals.
Weymouth councillor Ryan Hope said more needed to be done to educate people about the risks and the environmental damage that could be caused, but said that it was likely to also need enforcement powers to be effective.
“A policy that has no enforcement is merely guidance. My concern is how much use this will be… my major concern is we are talking about a policy but no enforcement alongside that,” he said.
Cllr Laura Miller, who spent much of last summer helping clearing up the mess an influx of visitors left behind at Lulworth Cove, said if she had her way she would ban barbecues having seen the damage abandoned hot coals could cause to children’s feet.
But she said that the alternative was to continue to encourage a “collective environmental responsibility”.
You can find advice on how to manage barbecues safely at www.dwfire.org.uk/safety/safety-outdoors/barbecues/
By Local Democracy Reporter Trevor Bevins