Hundreds of acres of heathland destroyed as wildfires spread across Scottish Highlands

Huge grassland fire brought under control before it reaches Scottish town after burning through the night
Dozens of firefighters battled blaze near Fort William in Scottish Highlands
Hundreds of acres of heath, grass and trees have burned in dry conditions
Cause unknown but farmers are currently allowed to set moorland on fireLocal Lib Dem MP Charles Kennedy praises efforts of emergency services

By
Becky Evans and Mark Duell

PUBLISHED:

22:38 GMT, 1 April 2013

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UPDATED:

13:03 GMT, 2 April 2013

Firefighters worked through the night to bring under control a huge grassland blaze.

Crews were called to tackle the wildfire north of Fort William in the Scottish Highlands at around 4pm yesterday, which broke out on grassland and heath north of the B8004, stretching for three miles.

Ross, Skye and Lochaber Liberal Democrat MP Charles Kennedy praised the efforts of emergency service crews who tackled the fire, with no properties in the area having to be evacuated.

Fire: The blaze began yesterday above Banavie on the outskirts of Fort William opposite Ben Nevis in Scotland

Fire: The blaze began yesterday above Banavie on the outskirts of Fort William opposite Ben Nevis in Scotland

Response effort: Firefighters have struggled to control the pockets of hill fires as the conditions are so dry

Response effort: Firefighters have struggled to control the pockets of hill fires as the conditions are so dry

‘I have never witnessed anything quite on the scale of yesterday’s massive hill fire above Banavie and Corpach,’ he said.

‘If initial reports are confirmed,
then it is miraculous that there was no significant loss of property,
far less worse. The spate of such fires recently across the Highlands
acts as a timely warning to us all.

‘But most of all it makes us all
profoundly grateful for the professional expertise and courage of our
firefighters and the other emergency services. We are indebted to them
all.’

A couple of appliances were still in
attendance to monitor the scene, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service
said. The wildfire has been extinguished but crews remain to check for
any hotspots.

The fire involved thick heather and dead bracken. It came at the end of the season when farmers are allowed to set moorland on fire to burn long grass and heather to encourage new grazing for sheep.

Emergency services: Up to 40 firefighters were working at the scene opposite Ben Nevis in the Highlands

Emergency services: Up to 40 firefighters were working at the scene opposite Ben Nevis in the Highlands

But the cause of the fire, which burned to within one and a half miles of Fort William, is still unknown.

Crews have struggled to get control of the spate of wildfires that have been burning sporadically over the weekend. Firefighters were tackling another five wildfires in the Highlands and Islands area.

A significant blaze was underway in
Gairloch where crews were assessing risk to property, while in Morar,
near Mallaig, crews were making good progress in dealing with a heath
and moorland fire.

Fires were also burning in the hills
around Glenfinnan and in Kishorn. A wildfire in Lochinver, Sutherland,
was said to be under control.

A spokesman for the fire service said:
‘Crews on site and staff at operations control Inverness continue to
work tirelessly to deal with each of the incidents, whilst ensuring that
cover is maintained to deal with other operational incidents across the
Highlands and Islands area.

Extraordinary: The scale of the fire could be seen by this picture posted on Twitter showing the blaze at night

Extraordinary: The scale of the fire could be seen by this picture posted on Twitter showing the blaze at night

Not far away: These pictures show how close the fire has come to built up areas in the Scottish Highlands

Not far away: These pictures show how close the fire has come to built up areas in the Scottish Highlands

‘Over the last week there have been
175 wildfire incidents and the service would like to thank their
retained and whole-time staff who have worked around the clock to deal
with these incidents.

‘We would also like to thank local
employers who have released our retained crew members to deal with the
incidents and maintain the safety of our local communities and local
landowners and other agencies for their support.’

Wildfires in dry conditions are common in the Highlands at this time of year but it less common to see so many in a single day, a Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue spokesman said.