HAMPSHIRE firefighters have dealt with more than 400 outdoor blazes in the first five months of 2021 – with numbers expected to rise as the weather warms up.

HIWFRS has already responded to 427 grassland, woodland and crop fires between January and May.

As lockdown measures ease further, and with the promise of sunnier days ahead, the service is now urging people to act with care when enjoying the countryside.

Station Manager Dean Hodges, HIWFRS’ wildfire lead, said: "The number of incidents we have already dealt with this year is concerning. Although we all hope for warmer weather over the next few months, drier conditions increase the risk of incidents like these becoming wildfires.

"These fires can spread quickly and cause a massive amount of damage, so it’s really important that everyone plays their part by helping us look after our countryside.

"When the conditions are hot and dry, think twice about lighting barbecues and campfires. Always dispose of these items carefully and make sure barbecue coals have cooled down completely.

"The New Forest is now a no barbecue and fire zone and we urge people to follow those rules."

With drier, warmer weather comes an increased risk of wildfires, which can cause devastation to natural habitats and take significant fire service resources to tackle.