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Couple set fire to old oak tree by lighting barbecue in hollow as they picnic on farmland in Stansted

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Emergency call-outs to a barbecue and a bonfire burning out of control have sparked warnings from Stansted fire station to avoid lighting fires in dry weather.

A couple who lit a disposable barbecue in the hollow of a 100-year-old oak tree, to shield it from the wind, while on a picnic near Pennington Lane on Saturday evening had to call 999 when the tree caught light.

Stansted crew manager Dave Morland said that it was the latest in a series of calls to that area over the past few weeks in which fires had been lit on farmland. The station's new off-road vehicle – one of only four in Essex – was deployed to the remote spot.

The ancient oak tree damaged by a barbecue fire (37468111)
The ancient oak tree damaged by a barbecue fire (37468111)

"We've had several calls to this area lately for fires that have been started on grass and in hedgerows. On this occasion, however, two people had decided it was a good idea to light their barbecue inside the hollow of a tree, which obviously soon proved to be a serious mistake," he said.

"After we had extinguished the fire, suitable advice/action was taken with those involved. The oak tree was over 100 years old and has sustained very serious damage as a result.

"Although many public footpaths exist in the area, some go around the side of farm fields. People using these paths have to realise that the field is the property of the farmer and, as such, should be treated with respect and footpaths stuck to. The lighting of fires and barbecues in these areas is not acceptable."

The large grass fire in Newport tackled by Stansted's specialist off-raod vehicle (37468118)
The large grass fire in Newport tackled by Stansted's specialist off-raod vehicle (37468118)

The off-road vehicle was also used on Thursday evening (June 25) when Saffron Walden and Newport crews called for additional help to tackle a grass fire started by a bonfire on farmland in Newport. The blaze damaged about 3 hectares (7.4 acres).

Mr Morland added: "Our off-road vehicle provided the ability to get to the far side of the field where standard-size fire appliances couldn't get to. We spent about 30 minutes dampening down the edges of the fire and putting out several hotspots."

He warned: "Due to the current spate of hot weather and with the ground so dry, we don't advise anyone that lighting bonfires is a good idea at the moment. Please use the recycling centres that are now open once again."

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