Exceptionally hot weather keeps firefighters busy

The heat itself does not cause any fires, but heatwave ‘Lucifer’ will continue to make the dry countryside prone to more fires

The blaze close to Ghar Lapsi burning in an inaccessible area, watched by onlookers
The blaze close to Ghar Lapsi burning in an inaccessible area, watched by onlookers

The recent spate of hot weather that engulfed the island has kept firefighters busy with controlling grass fires that are spreading faster due to the lack of moisture in vegetation.

The heat itself does not cause any fires, but ‘Lucifer’ will continue to be felt even after it passes as a result of the dry countryside that will make it prone to more fires, even as the high temperatures start to fall. 

The Civil Protection Department has seen an increment in grass fires over the last couple of days, particularly in valleys and in the countryside.

“The cause and origin of the fires cannot be directly attributed to the heatwave itself. What is sure is that, due to the exceptionally hot weather, grass fires tend to spread faster due to the lack of moisture in vegetation,” CPD deputy director Peter Paul Coleiro told MaltaToday.

Drier plants, as a result of the hotter conditions, facilitate the spread of flames.

“Any dew and moisture residue from night time dries up quicker during the day, contributing to the factors explained,” Coleiro said, adding that the CPD is fighting more severe fires, that are spreading faster.

Households are advised to ensure that appliances are not exposed to temperatures above those that they have been manufactured to work in, as this may expose them to a higher risk of fire. Whilst there is no direct evidence that fires which occurred recently did so because of the increase in temperatures, damage to an appliance’s insulation may increase the risk of fire.

“Any appliance with overheating wiring may crack and damage the insulation and, if unchecked, this may increase the risk of fire,” Coleiro warned.

Media reports of trees catching fire last week suggested that this occurred due to the heat. However, Coleiro dismissed the suggestion, arguing that such fires are normally caused by “indirect sources”.

“As regards to the claim of trees undergoing spontaneous combustion, most tree fires are caused by indirect sources, such as flying cinders originating from other fires causing a smoldering fire which may go unnoticed for a period of time,” Coleiro explained. 

Other causes may be glass debris on roadsides igniting dry shrubs, or ignited cigarettes thrown out of moving vehicles. 

“There are instances where due to biological or chemical activity, trees and vegetation may be susceptible to a rise in temperature that may lead to a fire… but spontaneous combustion of trees is not yet a documented phenomenon,” the CPD deputy director added.

Fires have been reported all over the island, at times even in locations where the CPD cannot access the area. A case in point is a fire that ravaged the cliffs close to Ghar Lapsi on Monday night, in an area that was inaccessible to firefighters.

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