Residents evacuated as wildfire swept through Dorset

Published on: Monday April 25th, 2022

Families have been evacuated from their homes after a wildfire swept through Dorset moorland in the UK, destroying around 17 hectares (42 acres) of wildlife-rich habitat and also threatening bird life and also qualified of “biggest in 5 years”.

Canford Heath in Poole is a 340 hectare nature reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest which is home to rare species including smooth snakes, sand lizards and Dartford warblers, as well as pit vipers, dragonflies and nightjars .

Fire crews were called to report a blaze around 5 p.m. Saturday. A combination of strong winds and unusually dry vegetation caused the blaze to spread dramatically and rapidly, with the Ferndown Fire Station crew saying it was the biggest blaze there for several years.

At its peak, 80 firefighters and 25 firefighting vehicles were used to fight the blaze – 15 pumpers, four water carriers and six off-road Land Rovers. Most of the blaze was out by 10:30 p.m. and fire crews remained through Sunday to mitigate hot spots and monitor the area. The moor is right next to one of Europe’s largest housing estates and residents of 20 homes have been evacuated to a nearby leisure centre.

On Sunday, a police helicopter was used to order people who wanted to take photos away from the site. A man was seen trying to douse part of the blaze by stomping on it, only to have his trainer catch fire. Fire chiefs estimated that 17 hectares of moorland had been destroyed by the blaze, with its effect on wildlife yet to be quantified.

Graham Kewley, group leader of the Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Services, said the blaze was likely started by human act but “likely to be reckless rather than malicious”. No evidence of a barbecue or campfire was found.

Kewley said an unusually dry April caused the fire to spread rapidly. He said that although the ground below is still wet, the gorse and vegetation above has been unusually dry for the time of year. Residents were understandably worried about their homes, especially since large bushes and trees in the area had caught fire and it looked very bad. We made the decision to evacuate these residents. The fire reached the fences of several properties, but our teams managed to prevent it from reaching the actual properties. Their crews faced very difficult conditions as the wind forced the fire towards them and the visibility was very poor due to the smoke. These residents were able to return to their homes at 10 p.m. last night after the fire was extinguished.

Canford Heath is the largest moor in Dorset and the largest lowland moor in the UK. Kewley described it as a site of international importance for reptiles and birds.

Dorset Police have called for witnesses or people with relevant footage to come forward if they can help with the investigation into the cause of the fire.

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Tags: Dorset, UK, forest fires

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