PEOPLE enjoying the countryside this summer are being warned about the dangers of starting wildfires as large swathes of the North-East’s landscape are turning into potential tinder in the hot weather.

Fire chiefs and conservationists claim a fire in the North Pennines would be disastrous due to the amount of dry vegetation on the moors and heathland.

Simon Wilson, project development officer for the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership said even a discarded cigarette butt could lead to a major catastrophe.

He said: “It is vital people are aware of the risk of fire and how something small can escalate into a situation we all dread.

“The advice is simple, please do not use disposable barbecues, paper lanterns or any naked flames out in the moors.

“Also be sensible and alert when disposing of cigarette butts.”

Much of the AONB’s moorland is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Mr Wilson said a blaze would destroy wildlife, large carbon stores and vegetation as well as posing a risk to human life.

Mr Wilson said any fires should be immediately called in on 999.

He said: “This is not the time of year when groundskeepers carry out controlled heather burns.

“If you see smoke or a fire you know it is an emergency.”

County Durham, and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service has also issued warnings to people heading into the hills or to the heaths of the County Durham coast this summer.

Andy Whitehead, district manager, said: “Following a wet start to the year, the recent spell of warm sun and wind has created very dry conditions and a risk of wildfire on moors and heathland.

“Wildfires can be a huge drain on fire and rescue resources; this is due to the large areas they can cover and the time required to bring such fires under control.

“In recent years, we have seen, in other parts of the world, that these types of fires can have devastating effects.

“A very active wildfire season would stretch resources to the limit so we would ask the public to be extra careful and vigilant when out in rural areas of the county.”

The fire service has issued the following guidance:

Do not light fires, including barbeques, unless in controlled areas, and always properly extinguish cigarettes.

Do not discard items that may cause fire, such as bottles, and do not use Chinese or sky lanterns.

Any fire in the countryside should be reported on 999.