Wareham Forest: a case study

By Rayanne Vitali, University of Exeter

In the early hours of the 18th May 2020 a wildfire broke out at Wareham Forest in Dorset, South West England. The forest is an area consisting of open heathland and woodland dominated largely by Corsican and Scots Pine, with around a third of the 1542 hectares designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The blaze lasted close to two weeks and damaged approximately 220 hectares of land, requiring the assistance of over 150 firefighters before the fire was extinguished, gaining the interest of national news (e.g. BBC, The Metro).

Since the fire, the Exeter team has visited the site on several occasions in order to build a picture of what went on by using post-fire forensic approaches. Through using identifiers such as bark char patterns, needle freeze and Fern bends together with analysing charcoal reflectance, the team have been compiling a dataset of wind direction, fire direction and fire intensity at different locations through the forest. Fire severity and regrowth over time has also been monitored throughout the visits. Preliminary plots of the dataset agree with what was observed at the time of the fire and offers an opportunity to develop a nice case study of wildfires in the UK.

Alongside other the other work packages in the UKFDRS project the data from the Wareham Forest fire provides a study of fire behaviour for key fuel types and an understanding of site-level fuel structure. This information will be used to help construct fuel models and to evaluate the predictive capability of fire behaviour models ultimately help towards building a UK Fire Danger Rating System.

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