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7 ways the scorching heatwave has affected Cambridgeshire

The long summer heatwave has been celebrated by many people for weeks – but it is has also brought considerable challenges.

Temperatures soaring above 30C have put a strain on public services, affecting police, health and council workers.

The Cambridgeshire countryside has also suffered with outbreaks of field fires and dying wildlife.

We've taken a look at the different ways the hot weather has affected the region.

1. Huge blazing field fires

A field on fire near Meldreth (Image: Simon Coleman)

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue service received 2,032 calls to its control centre between June 17 and July 17 this year.

Out of these incidents, 309 were small fires in the open and nine were to large fires in the open.

Cambridgeshire Live has reported on firefighters' efforts to battle a woodland fire on the edge of Thetford Forest in July.

Fifty firefighters tackled a huge field fire in Wyboston on July 24, while the next day another large field fire broke out.

Only last week three people suffered from smoke inhalation as fires broke out across Cambridgeshire.

Huge field fire breaks out in St Neots (Image: Lisa McDonnell)

Group Commander Kevin Napier, head of community fire safety at Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “In the last month or so, our Combined Fire Control has received more than 2,000 calls to incident in Cambridgeshire and Suffolk.

"Many of these have been to fires in the open, such as forest, stack and crop fires. As we saw with the moorland fires recently, these can quickly spread and burn for days, which require a significant amount of firefighting resources."

Mr Napier said fire crews are called out to an increased number of fires during spells of hot weather and urged people to be careful not to accidentally trigger blazes.

He added: "We want to help ensure that people enjoy the sunny weather while its here safely.

"High temperatures and dry areas of land can be perfect conditions for a fire to spread.

"Something as simple as not stubbing a cigarette out properly, or using a disposable barbecue on grass, can start a fire that can develop quickly."

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Weather in Cambridgeshire

7 simple steps to help prevent an outdoor fire:

1. Ensure cigarettes are completely out

2. Do not throw cigarettes out of car windows onto grass verges or vegetation

3. Put disposable barbecues on bricks, do not place directly on grass

4. Do not leave glass bottles lying on the ground. The suns rays reflect through the glass and can start a fire

5. When camping, do not leave campfires unattended and make sure they are completely out before you leave them

6. Use barbecues on a hard, flat surface, away from grass, shrubs or fencing

7. Talk to your children about the dangers of starting a fire

2. Breathing problems, dehydration and heatstroke

Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge

Rising temperatures can have an impact on our health, aggravating existing problems or triggering dangerous reactions.

David Monk, operations manager at Cambridge University Hospitals, said: “Most people seem to be taking sensible precautions, such as staying well hydrated and keeping out of direct sunlight, but we have seen an upturn in people with underlying health conditions that have been aggravated by the hot weather.

"Typically these include people with breathing problems and those taking medications that affect sweating and temperature control.

"There also tend to be more accidents, with people getting out and about to enjoy the good weather."

Mr Monk reminded residents to keep and eye on elderly or young people who can be particularly vulnerable during weather extremes.

He added: "The main risks are dehydration, overheating, heat exhaustion and heatstroke."

More health advice is available on the NHS Health Choices web page 'Heatwave: how to cope in hot weather', including a section called 'How do I know if someone needs help?'

2. Rivers full of dead fish

Dead fish found by a resident in a nature reserve in March, Cambridgeshire (Image: Sharon Wing)

Last month the BBC reported that 6,000 fish had died in Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk during the recent heatwave.

In Cambridgeshire, 400 fish are believed to have died in a stretch of the River Nene in March.

An Environment Agency spokeswoman explained: "We attended a stretch of the River Nene in March following reports of fish in distress and dead fish.

"We believe around 400 fish have died and investigations show that this is due to low oxygen levels in the river.

"Heavy rainfall on Friday and Saturday (July 27 and 28) is the likely cause because when we experience a heavy storm after a long dry period, debris that has accumulated in the drainage systems is flushed into the rivers.

"As a result, the algae and micro-organisms in the rivers rapidly multiply which causes a significant drop in oxygen levels. This results in the fish being starved of oxygen."

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The spokeswoman said oxygen levels are now improving and teams were responding to incidents across the region to help keep fish alive.

People who see dead fish or fish gasping for breath, they should contact the Environment Agency's incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60.

3. Opportunistic burglaries

The law doesnt require you to wait to be attacked before using defensive force (Image: Maudib)

Cambridgeshire Constabulary has warned members of the public to keep their windows and doors secured after a number of opportunistic burglaries across the county.

During warm weather people leave these open to get cool air flowing through a house.

Criminals have been taking advantage of such behaviour and are stealing from homes when they see an opportunity to get in through an open door or window.

Detective Sergeant Mark Plitsch said: “We understand the need to open up doors and windows in this very hot weather, however we need residents to do their bit by making it more difficult for burglars and also report any suspicious activity.

“Our advice is to keep doors and windows closed if you are not in that room and make sure you close and lock them when you leave the house

"All it takes is a few seconds for a burglar to reach inside an open window and take a set of car keys for example, or enter your home through an open patio door while youre upstairs.

“Particularly through the night, make sure all ground-level doors and windows are closed and locked."

To report a burglary or any suspicious activity visit www.cambs.police.uk/report.

4. Farmers running out of water

Bleak scenes following a huge field fire

According to the National Farmers' Union Cambridgeshire is an important region for cereal crop and vegetable production.

This includes eight per cent of England's total potato crop and 10 per cent of other vegetable and salad crops.

A spokesman for the union said it was still too early to properly assess the impact of the heatwave but said farmers in Cambridgeshire were facing an "extremely challenging period".

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He said: "The heatwave [follows] on from the wet and cold spring. The dry weather will have an impact on yield and quality of crops, though that will vary from farm to farm and even field to field.

"Irrigated crop growers have been working to eke out water supplies to irrigate crops including potatoes and onions but some farmers are starting to run out of water for fruit and vegetable production.

"Irrigation bans have been introduced in parts of the Cambridgeshire Fens and farm reservoirs are starting to run dry.

"Grass growth has been poor and some farmers are having to use winter feed stocks for their livestock, as grazing isnt available."

200 hectares of standing crop was destroyed in a fire

At the NFU's National Drought Summit, the Environment Agency said it would take a flexible approach on water abstraction licensing to farmers, to help with drought conditions

The NFU supports its members through a fodder bank to help them find animal feed for their farms, or sell any surplus to assist others.

The spokesman added: "Cambridgeshire farmers are more than aware of the risk of fires and know what steps to take given the tinderbox conditions.

"However, they are pleading with people not to use portable barbecues near standing crops, be careful when discarding cigarette ends and glass, and not to release sky lanterns or let off fireworks."

5. Homeless people suffering in unbearable heat

Homeless Khaled's hands covered in bites

For those people sleeping rough on the street, the hot weather can a nightmare.

Homeless people in Cambridge have to choose whether to spend collected donations on water or shelter.

One man, Khaled, shared his experiences with Cambridgeshire Live.

Homeless since February, he discussed infected fly bites and the lack of medical attention.

Other rough sleepers described sitting out all day in extreme heat just to raise enough money to pay for a bed for the night.

6. Parched public green spaces

The hot weather has had a devastating affect on green spaces across the country.

In Cambridge, the parks and commons have been scorched dry.

Parker's piece has turned yellow, with large spots of brown as soil has become exposed.

7. Early starts for brave bin crews

Wheelie bin collection in Cambridge (Image: Keith Jones)

The Greater Cambridge Shared Waste Service has 150 frontline staff collecting residents' bins in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire.

Every day 36,000 bins are emptied by crews. On average a crew member will walk up to 12 miles during one shift – exhausting work in hot weather.

Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council have called on residents to do their bit to help crews through their challenging rounds.

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Residents can help them out by, where appropriate:

  • Putting your bin out at the kerbside, with the handles facing the road, the evening before collection if possible. This will allow them to collect bins slightly earlier in the day if they are able to, during cooler temperatures
  • Avoiding putting additional recycling out for collection, by the side of blue bins, if possible. Crews are having to work more slowly and take extra breaks, so this will help them to collect everyone's bins
  • If you know you have plenty of space in your bin and don't really need to have it emptied this time, please don't put it out. For example, if you only have a small bag at the bottom of the black bin or a few bottles in your blue bin

Residents in Cambridge were also yesterday (August 2) asked to put their bins out for by 6am on collection day.

Crews will be starting earlier in the day to work in cooler conditions. High temperatures also mean crews need to slow down and take more breaks to stay safe.

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