Families have been evacuated from their homes after a wildfire swept across heathlands in Dorset, destroying about 17 acres (42 acres) of wildlife-rich habitats.
Canford Heath in Poole is a 340-hectare nature reserve and site of particular scientific interest, home to rare species, including smooth snakes, sand lizards and Dartford songbirds, as well as vipers, dragonflies and nightingales.
The fire department was called out for reports of a fire at 5pm on Saturday. A combination of strong winds and unusually dry vegetation meant that the flame spread dramatically and quickly crew at Ferndown fire station said it was the biggest fire at the place in a number of years.
At its highest, 80 firefighters and 25 firefighting vehicles were used to fight the fire – 15 pumps, four water tanks and six off-road Land Rovers. Most of the fire was extinguished by 10.30pm and the fire brigade stayed until Sunday to put out hotspots and monitor the area.
The moor is located right next to one of the largest residential areas in Europe, and people in 20 homes were evacuated to a nearby leisure center.
On Sunday, a police helicopter was used to order people eager to take pictures away from the scene. A man was seen trying to put out part of the fire by stomping on it, just so his trainer could burn.
Fire chiefs estimated that 17 acres of heathland were destroyed by the fire, with its impact on wildlife not yet quantified. A photograph taken from the air on Sunday morning shows darkened heath very close to houses.
A local resident, Alex Saxby, said: “I have lived in Canford Heath for about 16 years and this is one of the worst fires I have ever seen. It started at the very top of the moor and reached very quickly the bottom.
“It was scary. Standing at the roundabout you could see the flames over bushes and bushes. The wind was very bad, which did not help the situation. I went down there when the fire was small, returned home, and within half an hour it had spread. itself massively.
Elizabeth Leddy of Poole said: “The amount of smoke that smoked out was like no heat fire I’ve seen before.”
Graham Kewley, a group leader at the Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service, said the fire was probably started by a human action but “is probably ruthless rather than a malicious act”. No signs of a barbecue or campfire were found.
Kewley said an eerily dry April led to the fire spreading rapidly. He said: “While the ground below is still wet, the square and vegetation at the top have been unusually dry for the season.
“The residents were obviously worried about their home, especially when large shrubs and trees in the area had caught fire, and that made it look very bad. We made the decision to evacuate these residents. The fire reached quite a few property fence lines, but our crews were able to prevent it from reaching the actual properties.
“Our crew faced some very difficult conditions as the wind forced the fire against them and the visibility was very poor due to the smoke. These residents were able to return to their homes by 10pm last night after the fire. was off. “
Canford Heath is the largest heath in Dorset and the largest lowland heath in the UK. Kewley described it as an internationally important place for reptiles and bird life.
Dorset police appealed to witnesses or persons with relevant footage to report if they could assist in the investigation of the cause of the fire.