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Wildfire as a cross-cutting issue

More ignition sources or more fuel increases the likelihood of a wildfire occurring.

The impact of any fire increases if there are people, infrastructure or other valuable resources in its path. In the UK, loss of life and buildings is rare. But wildfires have other economic, social and environmental impacts - disrupting water supplies, for instance. These effects spread across a range of supporting, regulating, provisioning and cultural ecosystem services. Some ecosystems are more resilient than others and recover quickly.

Direct economic costs include suppression by Fire Services and loss of provisioning services such as timber, crops and game. Indirect socio-economic costs include road and airport closures due smoke, disruption to communities, loss of livelihoods, and opportunity costs to emergency services and businesses. Environmental costs include restoration of biodiversity and other supporting ecosystem services, regulating services such as carbon and water, and cultural services such as landscape quality.

Likelihood and impact together produce risk, although the specific meaning of the term ‘fire risk’ differs between disciplines.  Many sectors may contribute to wildfire risk and are affected by it. They include agriculture, biodiversity, forestry water, health, transport, the built environment and business.  Wildfire is therefore a truly cross-cutting issue, requiring an inter-agency response and partnership working. 

Cross-sector; government and private sector

Fire and Rescue Service response to wildfire incidents in England is in the remit of the Home Office. But wildfire is not just a fire service problem; management of wildfire falls across the remit of other government departments at different stages of the hazard chain, and prevention is a people and land management issue for wider society.

In England, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) contribute to prevention through habitat management and closure of Access Land at times of high fire risk, and to recovery through ecological restoration.  Others like the Department of Health can be involved in other aspects. The Cabinet Office Civil Contingencies Secretariat is assesses conducts the National Risk Assessment risks and included severe wildfire in the National Risk Register in 2013, 2015 and 2017

Non-governmental organisations, charities, the business sector (such as water companies, insurers and land owners) and the public can increase or help to mitigatewildfire risk.  Regional fire operations groups have emerged as a local partnership response to managing wildfire risk (see Gazzard et al. 2016)


Fire requires fuel, heat and oxygen.  Fuel management is achieved by managing vegetation cover, which reduces the likelihood of a fire burning intensely and spreading.  Heat and oxygen are largely weather-related, typically through drought and wind, so require an understanding of fire behaviour, atmospheric science and also climate change.  Social science contributes because people accidentally or maliciously provide the additional heat sources which start most fires.

Wildfire therefore cuts across the environmental, physical and social sciences.  KfWf draws mainly on research in the environmental sciences, for instance in ecology, hydrology, geomorphology, soil science, remote sensing, atmospheric science and climate change but we also engage with physical and social scientists.

Sectors and disciplines

KfWf is working across sectors and disciplines to join up emerging interests in UK wildfire.  We work closely with the England and Wales Wildfire Forum (EWWF), a partnership of public, private and third sector organisations concerned with wildfire and its management in England and Wales.

Stakeholder groups

EWWF fire sector includes:

  • National Fire Chiefs Council (formerly Chief Fire Officers’ Association) Wildfire Group.
  • Fire Brigades Union
  • Regional Fire and Rescue Services
  • etc.

EWWF Government agencies include:

  • Home Office (lead government department for wildfire)
  • Civil Contingencies Secretariat, Cabinet Office
  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
  • Welsh Assembly Government
  • Defence Fire Risk Management Organisation
  • Forestry Commission England
  • Met Office
  • Natural England
  • Natural Resources Wales
  • Network Rail
  • etc.

EWWF land management and business sectors include:

  • Country Landowners
  • Heather Trust
  • Moorland Association
  • Scottish Wildfire Forum
  • English National Park Authorities, Peak District National Park Authority
  • Local Government Association
  • Network Rail
  • Lancashire Fire Operations Group
  • South East England Wildfire Group
  • etc.