We hear about homes being razed to the ground and animals burned to death as wildfires rage out of control across arid countryside in the likes of Australia, the US or Spain. It’s not a problem we might instinctively associate with Scotland.
However, hillsides and moors in many parts of the country have gone up in flames in the past few days and weeks. Firefighters have been tackling blazes all over the place, from West Lothian to Sutherland, with Perthshire, Stirlingshire, Lochaber and Moray in between.
A massive blaze broke out last week on high ground between the village of Lochinver and the landmark peak of Suilven, in Sutherland, with flames lighting up the night sky for miles around. Seven fire engine crews battled to control the outbreak. Large fires have also occurred in recent days at a forest near Pitlochry, on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, in the Ochil Hills and in Glen Etive.
Wildfires have the potential to destroy farmland, wildlife and important natural habitats as well as devastating the lives of people in rural communities.
Spring is a particularly dangerous season for wildfires, apparently. At this time of year dead vegetation left over from winter, warmer temperatures and lower humidity levels can come together with lethal effect.
And the kind of breezy conditions and frosty nights we’re currently experiencing can exacerbate the situation, speeding the drying of green foliage and driving a rapid spread of any fires that do spark up.
The good news is we can all do our bit to help reduce the risk. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, conservationists and countryside groups have all issued tips aimed at keeping people, animals and property safe.
Some of the advice may seem like common sense but it’s surprising how many people seem blind to the possible implications of their actions – or lack thereof.
A dropped cigarette butt, an abandoned portable barbecue or a stray ember from a campfire can ignite dry grass and leaves. Even the smallest fire can spread uncontrollably and devour entire hillsides.
Wildfires also have the potential to burn for days, incinerating vast areas of land and its resident wildlife and threatening the welfare of nearby communities and domestic animals.
So, with weather forecasters predicting the current conditions will continue this week, people are being urged to be responsible and follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code when venturing out.
To reduce the risk of wildfires, people are being asked to avoid chucking down cigarette butts and to dispose of litter such as glass bottles responsibly. Campfires and barbecues should be kept at manageable levels – you don’t need an inferno to grill a sausage – never be left unattended, and properly put out afterwards.
And no have-a-go heroes. Anyone who does discover a wildfire when they’re out and about should not tackle it without help. Instead, move to a safe place and call the emergency services, giving an accurate location of the fire if possible. Now, let’s enjoy the rest of that sunshine.