CASES of summer wildfires in Berkshire have more than doubled this year and concerns have been raised that staff are under-funded and ill-equipped to deal with the increase.

Between May and July, the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service (RBFRS) tackled 296 grass and wildfires.

This was more than twice the summertime yearly average from 2014 to 2017.

The figures show July had the highest number of fires in the joint hottest summer on record, according to the Met Office.

Across the UK, the number of grass fires increased by 157 per cent in 2018, with almost 25,000 call outs over the three-month period.

Responding to the figures, a spokesman for the Fire Brigade Union (FBU) said: "The growing risk of grass fires represents another strain on the dwindling resources of fire and rescue services, who are currently experiencing severe budget cuts across the country.

"Fire services do not receive enough funding to respond to an increase on this scale."

A Freedom of Information request to RBFRS found 15 per cent of the fires were started deliberately.

The Berkshire figures did not specify a cause, however in the national data where a cause was stated, 38 per cent were caused by a naked flame, such as candles or matches.

The FBU spokesman added: "Does that sound like a properly resourced fire service? We also had reports of firefighters working for 17 hours straight to get the wildfires under control. That is simply not good enough."

Large sections of the country went without rain for months this year.

A Home Office spokesman said: "The tireless efforts of firefighters to contain wildfires this summer have been astounding.

"We have made sure fire and rescue services have the support and equipment required to successfully fight these types of fires.

"We support fire and rescue services by providing specialist capabilities for the largest emergencies, including high volume pumps and the National Resilience team of specialist experts. Soldiers have also been deployed to tackle these incidents."