Fire crews extinguish heath blaze

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The Independent Online

A fire that raged through heathland and took almost 200 firefighters to stop it reaching homes has been put out.

Residents living near Upton Heath, in Poole, Dorset, were put on alert that their properties could be at risk when the fire, spanning more than 1,000 square metres, grew in strong winds.

Emergency crews, who were called to the scene at 2pm yesterday, said the fire was the largest to hit the area since 1976.

Eight hours later firefighters had extinguished the blaze but were still putting out small pockets of fire and warned people to stay off the heath.

A spokesman for Dorset Fire and Rescue Service said: "The fire is now out and all buildings are safe of fire.

"There are still a few small pockets of fire which crews are dealing with and will be dealing with overnight.

"We are asking people to stay off the heath and keep themselves safe."

Investigations into the cause of the fire are continuing but the spokesman suggested it could have been "malicious".

Some 30 appliances and 11 off-road Land Rovers attended the site where four people were treated for smoke inhalation.

One firefighter was also taken to hospital with "extreme exhaustion" while another suffered burns to his arm.

Homes in nearby Beacon Hill Road were evacuated while properties in Long Meadow Lane were also understood to be under threat.

Dorset Wildlife Trust said the fire had devastated Upton Heath nature reserve, one of the most important wildlife sites in England, at the height of the bird and reptile breeding season.

Wildlife including rare nightjars and Dartford warblers, and members of all six British species of reptile, have been killed, as an entire ecosystem was destroyed on the heathland, the Trust said.

Chief executive Simon Cripps said: "This is a disaster that will set wildlife back by 20 years or more on this important site.

"Since we took on management of the site 13 years ago, our wardens and volunteers have worked tirelessly to improve the habitat.

"It is doubly heartbreaking that Dartford warbler numbers had already been halved by the cold winter and there is now little chance of recovery for them for many years."

The Trust also said it was concerned about the implications of the fire for the local community, many of whom enjoy using the heath for recreation, and extended its sympathies to them and to people whose homes were threatened.