Heatwaves and Wildfires – An emerging risk

It seems not a year goes by without there being reference to another UK weather record being broken and climate change mentioned as a cause. We thought we had experienced this year’s share of unfortunate weather with the damage and flooding caused by Storms Dudley, Eunice and Franklin that hit the UK during February 2022 and which are expected to lead to insurers paying out c£497 million in dealing with 177,000 insurance claims*. However, the latest heatwave served as a warning that mother nature has far from finished with us just yet, and will keep on giving us much more to think about as our climate alters.  

Huge progress in this country has already been made recognising the increasing flooding risk caused by climate change. The success of Flood Re and “Build Back Better” resilience measures adopted by insurers supports this.

There are many studies explaining the various technical causes for increasing global temperatures and the major climate and weather challenges we face, including this year’s wildfires across Europe and UK.  We came across this insightful report from the United Nations Environment Programme in February 2022, providing an excellent explanation of wildfires and their causes.

Heatwaves and wildfires in southern Europe are devastating but they are nothing new, but instead of arriving July into August they now seem to be lasting all summer long. They are also affecting more northern countries in Europe, not typically prone to such fires in the past.

Recent large fires

In recent years droughts and heatwaves, including our own Spanish plume event in July 2022, create tinderbox conditions resulting in wildfires. These situations are often caused accidentally by our daily activity, be that of farm machinery sparking, discarded BBQ’s, glass or cigarettes etc. Whilst wildfires often originate in the countryside, they can still spread quickly, endangering dwellings too. The major incident fire on The Green in Wennington on 19th July 2022 during the 40°C degree heatwave set some 40 hectares of grassland alight, including farm buildings, houses and garages. The fires eventually destroyed around 19 properties.

A fire total loss is still quite rare, but on the 19th July 2022 our HNW home insurance claims department received notification of four total losses. These were mainly caused by fires from adjoining fields being fanned by strong winds onto boundary fences and outbuildings, eventually taking the home and whole terraces within minutes. The cause on one claim is that it may have originated by spontaneous combustion from a compost heap of all things.

Future precautions


To cater for this risk in the UK more thought needs to be taken into adopting additional measures in areas, at properties or housing developments identified as higher risk. These may include land use restrictions, prescribed burning, fire breaks and enhanced fire suppression. Other precautions could include:


  • More public awareness campaigns, involving the government and insurers
  • Introduction of Total Fire Bans during the summer months in high risk areas
  • Increased animal grazing in fire break areas
  • Land use planning controls, reducing urban sprawl into forest and brush areas
  • Essential management of woodland and avoiding high accumulations of dry bushes or other such fuel for fires
  • Regulation of uses of undeveloped land around dwellings to avoid activities that could cause fires
  • Development of mature native forests and integrating woody vegetation and agricultural crops and/or livestock, to help manage or reduce the likelihood of wildfires emergence and spread
  • An increase in retained fire fighters or volunteers for use in emergency situations

Finally and importantly, we need to look after ourselves during such conditions and take extra care. Click here for tips from the Met Office on ways to help keep cool during any future UK heatwaves.

*Source- ABI