Elstead Area Wildfire Risk Analysis Report

Michael Organe              August 8th 2022

This is my private assessment of current wildfire risks in the Elstead area following the recent fires on Hankley Common. It is based on my previous experience and training in an Emergency Service organisation and investigation of the recent fires. I have sought to relate it to the concerns and ideas raised at the recent Waverly public meeting held in Elstead.

Risks are not restricted to the Commons, as recent wildfires in and around cities and towns have shown that they can happen within inhabited areas.


Historically major fires in this area have not been very frequent, with memorable ones on Hankley in 1976 and 2003, Thursley in 2020. However with global warming it seems likely that very dry hot conditions will occur more frequently. This has been proved by the numbers of wildfires that have occurred this year in wide areas of Britain and other countries around the world.


Some of the fires in open country have been relatively small; others have damaged wide areas of heathland and woods. Wildfires that have occurred in inhabited areas this year have caused severe destruction and direct risk to life.

Open areas

It is clear from recent and previous fires on Hankley and Thursley Commons that wildfires can get out of control and cover wide areas very fast. If a number of fires happen at the same time this can put a high strain on the capacity and availability of the Fire Service and the Police. The risk to local settlements depends on the wind direction.


Villages and outlying homes and farms adjacent to Hankley and Thursley Commons can be put at risk by wildfires, Woolford’s Lane in 2022 and Thursley Road in 1976 and 2022.

The risk to the local villages depends on the wind direction. Hankley Fire#1 south of Yagden Hill could have crossed Tad Moor in the direction of Westbrook if there had been a SW wind. Fire#2 had an East wind and could have crossed the long ridge to the West towards Rushmoor if it had not been stopped. Fire#3 could have continued through the woods towards Tad Moor, although it would have had to go through some relatively wet ground before crossing Bridleway 74 and the fire break widened on that day.

There is also a risk of fires starting in or near homes within the inhabited areas. The fire in Wennington that destroyed half the village is believed to have started in or near a garden, possibly in overheated damp grass cuttings.


High levels of sunshine and lack of rain over a long period dry out vegetation and reduce the water level in normally wet areas.


Anything that can cause overheating of flammable material is a risk factor including:

    • Cigarettes,
    • Matches,
    • Barbecues,
    • Camp fires
    • Broken glass or bottles
    • Airborne candle lanterns
    • Fireworks
    • Parachute flares,
    • Discarded ammunition
    • Lightning strike
    • Stacked damp grass or straw
    • Waste dumps


A number of steps can be taken to help prevent and reduce the risk from fires and the impact that they have on property and people, including:

  1. Properly maintained firebreaks in and around heathland and wooded areas
    1. Landmarc/MOD
    2. Surrey Wildlife Trust/Natural England
    3. Supervision and patrolling of at risk areas.
    4. Surrey Fire Service K9 Patrols
    5. Friends of Thursley Common
    6. Local Council volunteers
    7. Landmarc/Army
  2. Education of organisations and the public in risk management.
    1. Surrey Fire Service Wildfire and Rural Affairs
    2. Waverley Emergency Planning, Resilience and Safety Officer
    3. Basic training in firefighting.
    4. Surrey Fire and Rescue Service
  3. Provision of local firefighting equipment.
    • MOD (at DZ huts)
    • Parish Councils
  4. Communication and warning systems
    • Central emergency warning, e.g. digital communications, siren, church bell.
    • Local warning, e.g. mobile broadcast, word of mouth, telephone.
  5. Evacuation procedures and facilities
    • SFRS and Police procedures
    • Local halls, churches, pubs
    • Special communications and records for evacuees.
  6. Local organisation and preparation
    • Publication of updated Thursley and Elstead emergency plans
    • Establishment of neighbourhood teams for information and possible action.
    • List of volunteers willing to take part.
    • List of locally available equipment and resources.
  7. Liaison with emergency services
    • Contact with SFRS and Police command posts
    • On the ground contacts to provide local knowledge
  8. Sources of information
    • Statutory Waverley and Elstead Emergency Plans.
    • Thursley Parish emergency procedures described at the Waverley meeting.
    • Local residents with experience of wildfires.
    • My report on the fires dated July 31st 2022. The Hankley ommon map below shows a larger area than the one in that report.