Why I believe disposable BBQs should be banned! ROSS CLARK normally hates nannying edicts but makes his case after a spate of wildfires and horrific injuries
Could any other word have become such a misnomer as ‘wildfire’? Fires do occur naturally in the wild, often caused by lightning discharges.
They always have been, and always will be, part of the ecosystem of forests and grasslands, especially in warm climates.
But there is nothing ‘wild’ about many of the fires which have devastated large areas of our countryside in the past week. Too often, when firefighters rake through a burned landscape after it has been devastated by flames, it comes down to the same cause: a disposable barbecue.
Two years ago, when fire ravaged 470 acres of heathland near Wareham in Dorset, the Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service discovered the remains of 11 disposable barbecues in the affected area.
Every one had been abandoned by their users — and it is highly likely that at least one of them set off the conflagration.
There is nothing ‘wild’ about many of the fires which have devastated large areas of our countryside in the past week
In 2020 Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service had 150 firefighters at the scene of a fire likely started by a disposable BBQ
Last Friday, firefighters discovered the remains of a disposable barbecue in an area of Delamere Forest, Cheshire, in which they had just spent 24 hours dousing the flames.
The same damning evidence was found last Saturday in an area of burned parkland in Kidlington, Oxford, and in Duston Mill, Northamptonshire, a fortnight ago.
Many users fail to understand just how long a disposable barbecue can retain heat, potentially causing a fire hours after it was used.
It is a lesson that Terry Archer of Little Walden, Essex, won’t forget in a hurry. Two weeks ago he went to bed, leaving a disposable barbecue cooling on bricks on his wooden decking, just as he had done many times before. Yet, on this occasion, the residual heat managed to spark a fire which destroyed his home — thankfully without injuring him or anyone else.
I am sure the beachgoers at Formby, Merseyside, who used a disposable barbecue on the sand one day in May 2020 didn’t think any harm would come of it, either. They, at least, took it home with them when they left the beach.
Unfortunately, they didn’t realise that the heat retained by the sand would be enough to burn the feet of nine-year-old Will Tyler when he unknowingly stepped on to the patch where it had been. The boy was hospitalised for nine days and required skin grafts which will leave him permanently scarred.
Schoolboy Will Tyler needed skin grafts and was left with lifelong scars after stepping on an extremely hot piece of sand where a barbecue had been in June 2020
A similar incident occurred in Wales last month when a seven-year-old girl suffered severe burns to her feet from a used barbecue that had been buried in the sand.
Simi Adenaike from Mount Pleasant had been playing on Swansea Bay beach when it happened.
She let out a ‘horrifying scream’, her mother recalled, and was in so much pain she could not explain what had happened.
Simi was rushed to hospital and may need skin grafts.
It isn’t just the direct risk from fire and heat, either. Thanks to the difficulty in picking up and carrying away a disposable barbecue, many end up being abandoned where they were used.
Even if they have been doused with water, they are dirty and inconvenient to take home, so many users don’t bother. This exposes unsuspecting people to the risk of stepping on their sharp edges — even after they have eventually cooled.
In June, 12-year-old Kent schoolboy Alex Gotellier nearly severed his Achilles’ tendon after stepping on a discarded barbecue at Camber Sands, East Sussex. I am not usually one for banning things, but such is the damage being wrought by disposable barbecues that I think there is a clear case for removing them from sale and preventing their use in any public place.
Part of the problem is the sheer number being used, often in highly inappropriate places.
Since they were introduced to our supermarkets in the late 1990s, sales have swelled.
In 2019, the website BusinessWaste revealed that one unnamed supermarket chain had sold 300,000 of them in a single year. In March, when Waitrose announced it would stop selling them, it suggested it had been shifting 70,000 annually. By that token, there must be several million a year being lit — and often discarded for someone else to dispose of.
Earlier this year, Aldi also announced it would cease to stock disposable barbecues. The Co-operative, too, will no longer sell them in stores within, or less than a mile from, national parks.
But that still leaves open the possibility they could be bought elsewhere — or used in vulnerable places outside national parks.
Morden Hall Park in south west London had a beautiful meadow ‘obliterated’ by one discarded throwaway BBQ this week
It is fair to say the Government is not entirely blind to the havoc caused by disposable barbecues. In April, Environment Minister Victoria Prentis announced the Government was going to commission an inquiry into the number of fires being set by them, with a view to curtailing their sale.
But how depressing that ministers have ended up dragging their feet through a tinder-dry summer.
I contacted the Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) this week, but all it would say was: ‘Anecdotal evidence suggests disposable barbecues have been responsible for a number of wildfire incidents. However, we do not have enough data or robust evidence to support this.’
Yesterday, it was revealed that this month has been the driest July for 111 years.
How many more tracts of treasured landscapes have to be scorched and burned before the Government will accept as evidence the obvious: that burning lumps of charcoal in a tin-foil tray placed on dry grass is an invitation to set off a potentially deadly fire?
Another branch of government, the Home Office, has put forward its own evidence, claiming that 4 per cent of serious accidental fires are caused by disposable barbecues. And the Prime Minister told the Commons last week that it was ‘clearly insane’ to use a disposable barbecue on dry grass.
But still Defra says it will take until early next year to collect the evidence it needs.
I am not anti-fun, but there is a stage at which you have to say enough is enough. If you want a barbecue, you can either use a properly constructed one in your own garden or else visit one of the many pubs which offer barbecue lunches and suppers during the summer months.
We don’t let people smoke while they fill their cars with petrol — for very obvious reasons. So why do we put up with the risk to the countryside posed by disposable barbecues?
Portable barbecues, many of which are fired by gas rather than charcoal, are also a safer option, as they don’t retain as much heat as a tray of charcoal does.
Alternatively, if you want to eat hot food in the open, there are many safer alternatives, such as camping gas stoves, which don’t retain heat as hot charcoal does.
It is all too easy to blame the climate for the devastating spate of fires experienced over the past week — and, of course, it is true that hot, dry weather produces the conditions in which it is easy for fire to take hold.
Even so, it takes a form of ignition to start a fire and it is clear from the location of many of these fires that they have human causes.
We don’t let people smoke while they fill their cars with petrol — for very obvious reasons. So why do we put up with the risk to the countryside posed by disposable barbecues? Then there is the sheer quantity of waste being produced by these items.
When Aldi announced it would stop selling them, it suggested that it would save 7.4 tonnes of tin foil and 1.1 tonnes of shrink-wrapped plastic every year. In a world in which we are trying to cut the amount of waste produced, halting the use of disposable barbecues is an obvious place to start.
They are a hangover from an age in which few people really cared about the amount of rubbish being produced; when household waste was tipped into ever-growing landfill sites and forgotten about.
The collapse in sales of single-use plastic bags — which fell by 95 per cent in the months after the Government introduced a 5p levy in 2015 — shows how quickly public attitudes can change.
Hopefully, the disposable barbecue will soon follow the single-use plastic bag to near-oblivion.
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