MORE than 4.5 hectares of land in Verwood was ‘devastated’ by fire on Wednesday – as Dorset remains on wildfire alert.
A fire was started at Stephens Castle, Verwood, on Wednesday, which destroyed 4.7 hectares of rare lowland heath, according to Dorset Council.
Crews from Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service (DWFRS) fought the flames for eight hours before bringing the blaze under control, with firefighters still on scene today (Friday), damping down hotspots.
During the battle to control the blaze, a mains water outlet they were using collapsed, so they had to syphon water from the heathland pond.
When natural water sources are used in this way, crews check and clear the filter regularly.
During a regular check they found some rare great crested (Triturus cristatus) and palmate (Lissotriton helveticus) newts had been drawn into the filter. This meant they stopped immediately and carefully freed the amphibians, releasing them back into the pond.
Sadly, there were several fatalities, along with more heathland creatures which perished in the flames.
DWFRS wildfire tactical advisor, Andy Elliott, said: “Wildfires at this time of year can be devastating to wildlife with ground nesting birds, reptiles and amphibians all being badly affected.
“I’m really pleased at how the crews reacted so quickly to this unfortunate incident by immediately stopping all pumping operations and taking action to release the trapped newts.
“We have to thank our colleagues from Forestry England who provided a tractor and bowser to enable us to continue damping down.”
This is just another hidden and perhaps unexpected cost of the wildfires which have become so prevalent across heaths and forests in recent times, said Ben Walbridge, senior ranger for Dorset Council’s Greenspace Team East.
“It was heartbreaking to see the devastation left by the fire with charred slow worms, and other animals burnt alive in the flames,” he said.
“The team has worked hard to reduce the fire risk and improve the heathland habitat for wildlife, with several hectares of gorse and scrub cleared last winter alone.
“We will continue to work with the Fire Service and Natural England to reduce the risk and severity of fires, and to restore our precious heathlands.
“To put into context how important these sites are, Dorset has just under 2.5% of the world’s remaining lowland heathland, and we can scarcely afford to lose any more to fires.”
The Urban Heaths Partnership (UHP) works hard to reduce the impacts of wildfires on heathlands across Dorset and to protect and enhance these areas as well as raise the understanding of their habitat and history.
Everyone can help protect the heaths from fire. If you see a fire, get to safety and call the fire service on 999.
Paul Attwell, team manager at The Urban Heaths Partnership, said: “Heathland wildfires can put the public and firefighters at risk and be devastating to endangered plants and animals, as well as putting nearby homes in danger.
“Please take additional care and be extra vigilant during warm weather and report anything that looks like a possible fire, don’t wait and think someone else will report it.
“During this time, we will increase partnership staff and volunteers on site to help prevent large fires.”