Surge in grass fires near motorways blamed on litter

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Drivers are being urged not to throw rubbish from vehicles amid a surge in grass fires near busy roads.

There were 56 fires on grass verges next to England’s motorways and major A-roads in the 10 days to Wednesday, Highways England reported.

Sizzling temperatures and a lack of rain have made verges drier than normal and many are catching fire due to items thrown from passing vehicles such as glass bottles, cigarette butts and plastic.

The North East was the region with the most fires (16), followed by the East of England (12) and the South East (11).

Highways England emergency planning officer Frank Bird said: “Smoke from roadside fires can drift across motorways posing a hazard to drivers. We’ve seen an increase in fires on grass verges near some of our motorways, for example on the M42 in the Midlands.

“With the land being so dry, it often only takes a small spark to take hold. We’d urge people to avoid throwing any items from vehicles at any time, but particularly in these hot conditions.”

Highways England worked with the emergency services to tackle a serious fire involving a lorry that was carrying hay on the M5 in the Midlands on July 19.

As well as dealing with the blaze on the vehicle and the carriageway, crews had to dampen nearby woods and a field beyond that.

West Midlands Fire Service station commander Marc Hudson said: “Littering at the side of the road significantly increases the risk of fire and has the potential to tie up valuable resources that could be used elsewhere, which in turn could put people’s lives at risk.”

Highways England removes about 200,000 sacks of litter from motorways each year.

– Here are the number of fires on grass verges near motorways and major A-roads in England from July 16 to 25:

East region – total of 12 incidents:
M25 – six
A11 – one
M40 – one
A1M – two
M4 – two

West Midlands region – total of seven incidents:
M42 – two
M5 – three
M6 – two

South East region – total of 11 incidents:
M2 – one
M20 – two
M3 – two
M23 – one
A20 – one
A2 – three
M25 – one

North East region – total of 16 incidents:
M62 – nine
M621 – one
M1 – three
A180 – one
A1M – two

North West Region – total of two incidents:
M60 – one
M61 – one

East Midlands Region – total of four incidents:
M1 – two
A57 – one
A1 – one

South West Region – total of four incidents:
M4 – two
M5 – two.

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