THE New Forest is on red alert amid fears it could be hit by a devastating fire as visitor numbers surge.

Barbecues have been banned and an urgent safety warning has been issued.

There are also fears that too many cars parked on verges will block any fire engines trying to get to any blaze that breaks out.

It comes ahead of the bank holiday weekend, which is expected to see a huge influx of tourists following the easing of the lockdown, and a huge forest fire in Wareham, Dorset, earlier this week.

Steve Ash, Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service group manager for the New Forest, said: “We urge the public to do their bit in helping us to prevent devastating wildfires.

“We want to avoid incidents of this kind at all costs, to protect our community, precious nature sites and wildlife. 

“The huge wild fire in Wareham Forest recently involved hundreds of firefighters, taking up precious resources on an incident that could have so easily been prevented. 

“Avoiding strains such as this on resources means this valuable time can be spent supporting and protecting our community during these challenging times.”

New Forest Post:

A “severe” fire warning is currently in force and barbecues in the open have been banned as part of a strategy to prevent blazes breaking out.

This week more than 150 firefighters tackled a massive blaze which engulfed 470 acres of heathland at Wareham Forest in Dorset.

The National Park Authority (NPA) is warning that a similar incident could occur in the New Forest.

Highlighting the scale of the threat a Forestry England spokesman said the organisation had closed all the barbecue facilities at popular visitor sites across the district.

He added: "Despite this staff have reported a steady increase in the number of people using BBQs or lighting campfires on Forestry England land.

"In the New Forest alone, over the last week, rangers have spoken to hundreds of people and extinguished many BBQs."

David Harrison, a member of the district council and the NPA, described the Forest as "tinder dry".

He added: "There's a high expectation of lots of visitors in the New Forest over the bank holiday weekend and we all hope they will behave responsibly. The Forest is very special - it isn't a place where 'anything goes'."

Visitors are being urged to follow the New Forest Code, which covers parking, cycling and dog walking - plus the dangers of lighting camp fires.

At least seven forest fires have broken out in recent weeks, including one which sent flames shooting 40ft into the air.

New Forest Post:

A Forestry England spokesman said: "Due to the sustained dry weather the risk of fires in our forests is extremely high. The devastating fire at Wareham Forest has shown just how real that risk is.

"Now, perhaps more than ever, we all need our outdoor spaces.

"We need the public's help to protect these precious places and ensure everyone can enjoy them safely. If you're planning to visit the Forest please do not use fire of any kind."

People parking on grass verges and blocking emergency access gates is also causing concern.

A police spokesman said: "With car parks now open there's absolutely no need for selfish parking, which endangers lives and prevents access for emergency service vehicles."

Cllr Alison Hoare, the council’s cabinet member for the environment, added: "We would ask people to use common sense and treat the area with respect.”