THE NUMBER of grass fires in Kingston and Richmond has rocketed during the past month, with the long dry spell turning parks and open spaces across both boroughs into dusty tinderboxes.

Firefighters in Richmond were called to 17 such blazes during June, compared with just nine in the year up to then. In Kingston, there were 14 grass fires last month, compared with just seven in the previous five months.

London-wide, the number of grass fires in the last two months is more than 30 per cent up on the same period last year.

According to the Met Office, Britain has experienced its driest first six months for more than 80 years. Just last week, around 20 firefighters spent nearly 18 hours hours tackling a grass fire in Kingston Hill, Kingston.

About a hectare of woodland and shrubbery was damaged in the blaze, to which firefighters were called just after 8pm last Tuesday (June 29). The cause is still being investigated.

Mark Reed, station manager at New Malden fire station, who helped tackle the fire, warned walkers and picknickers to take extra care during the dry spell.

"I would ask members of the public to be very careful with any ignition source, whether that's a cigarette lighter or a barbecue," he said. "Fighting grass fires takes frontline members of fire departments away from availability to answer emergency calls and carry out fire prevention work."

Grass fires, whether started accidentally or deliberately, can quickly get out of control, posing a risk to wildlife, surrounding properties and even people's lives.

The most common causes are discarded cigarettes, often thrown from car windows, and glass bottles, which magnify the sun's rays.

Andy Hickmott, London Fire Brigade's assistant commissioner for community fire safety, said: "With the hot weather set to continue we're bracing ourselves for a surge in the number of grass fires. "It's extremely frustrating for the fire service because these fires are easily preventable.
"If you’re disposing of a cigarette or barbecue, please do so carefully."

If you see a grass fire, don't attempt to put it out yourself. Call the fire brigade and, if possible, stick around so you can direct them to the scene - but only if it is safe to do so.

For more information about preventing grass fires, visit .