Show support for NHS by shunning misguided sky lantern campaign - Dave Walton
As a fire and rescue service, we stand resolutely behind those on the front line in the health and care sector; indeed, many of our staff have partners and friends who fulfil these vital roles and we aim to support them wherever possible.
However, we were aghast when we saw an online campaign emerge encouraging people to show support for carers by lighting and releasing sky lanterns on these occasions and others. The campaign, whilst well intended, is hugely misguided, dangerous to both property and the environment, and I assure you is not welcomed by any key worker I have had contact with.
If you stand back and think, the idea is totally illogical – the campaign encourages people to light a fire, attach it to a lantern and launch it without any idea about where it will end up. We know the weather has been dry and sunny of late, the national wildfire severity risk index is currently high, and the forecast looks fair.
These factors make perfect conditions for wildfires to spread out of control. We’ve already seen huge fires occurring on the moors – most recently in the last few days – and last month’s fire on Marsden Moor needed half the total number of fire engines in West Yorkshire to bring it under control.
Easter weekend in 2019 saw concurrent massive fires on both Marsden and Ilkley Moors.
As a lead partner in the West Yorkshire Local Resilience Forum, we are currently supporting community efforts during the coronavirus pandemic by assisting in the delivery of food and medicine to the community, helping with the distribution of PPE into the health and care sector, and supporting the Yorkshire Ambulance Service by being trained up to drive ambulances where required. And this is all being managed alongside business as usual.
We simply cannot afford for huge moorland fires to take our resources away from this huge societal effort. We’ve successfully appealed for land owners not to undertake controlled burning, we are regularly patrolling areas of high-risk moorland and working with partners to do this. The idea of fires being parachuted in after dusk, all in the name of supporting key workers, is anything but that!
A significant wildfire will draw specialist resources from across West Yorkshire and beyond – we prepare for that. It is a physically arduous and exhausting task – we prepare for that. The supply of water is challenging, often requiring use of expensive helicopters – we prepare for that. We’ve adapted our ways of working to try to ensure that firefighters, who always work in teams, can do so in a socially distant way.
The impact of sky lanterns on the environment is widely reported. The impact of fire on the natural environment is massive – our beautiful landscape is scarred with blackness and wildlife habitats are destroyed. And putting aside the risk of fire, they are also known to injure and burn animals.
Last year we delivered the campaign #BeMoorAware to raise awareness of wildfires on our moors and the impact they have on our land, wildlife and community. We have already commenced this year’s campaigning as we come into the peak risk period and are working closely with our partners: the National Trust, Yorkshire Water, United Utilities, the Environment Agency, CrimeStoppers and the three local authorities – Calderdale, Kirklees and Bradford.
We love our community, we exist to keep you safe and every one of us is committed to doing just that. We and all other key workers acknowledge and are genuinely grateful for the support being shown on Thursday evenings across the county.
We, in turn, thank our colleagues and will show our support this week and every other for as long as this continues.
We are asking – no pleading – for everyone to show their support in one of the many other ways that doesn’t involve casting a burning lantern into the night sky. Please help us to help you by being responsible and sharing this message that sky lanterns are not welcomed, and any use of them to thank the NHS is wholly misguided.
Dave Walton is co-chair of the West Yorkshire Resilience Forum and Deputy Chief Fire Officer for West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue.
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