9:33am Thursday 14th March 2013
AN AREA of Purbeck heathland equivalent in size to three football pitches was decimated by a major wildfire yesterday.
Around 80 firefighters attended the blaze on Stoborough Heath, which forced police to close the busy A351 as flames advanced towards traffic.
Ten fire engines, seven Land Rovers, the all-terrain Unimog and other specialist vehicles attended the fire, which was first reported around 1.45pm.
It is not known what sparked the blaze, but arson has not been ruled out at this stage.
Wildlife experts told the Daily Echo it is likely to take at least eight years for the habitat to return to its pre-fire state.
High winds caused the flames to spread quickly and firefighters worked for two hours to bring them under control.
No-one was injured but an estimated three acres of protected heathland habitat has been destroyed.
A number of poles carrying electricity lines have also been charred. Engineers will work to ensure they are stable.
An investigation into the wildfire’s cause has started, but firefighters say evidence of how it started will in all likelihood have been destroyed by the intense temperatures.
DFRS station manager Richard Coleman said: “From the start the fire was big and moving quickly. It was a fairly typical heath fire but the difference in this instance was it was relatively short-lived.
“The reason it escalated was because of the wind.
“A wind-driven fire makes it much more difficult and becomes much more dangerous.
“We closed the A351 because the flames were getting near the edge of the road and we needed somewhere to work from. When smoke starts coming across the road, chances of an accident increase.”
The majority of firefighters left the scene around 4.30pm, but a number of them remained dampening down and monitoring hot spots.
Mark Singleton, of the RSPB, said: “We manage this site.
We’ve walked the perimeter and haven’t found any evidence of dead reptiles.
“This fire will probably set the heathland habitat back about eight years though.”
The protected heathland is home to a number of rare reptiles and birds, but Mr Singleton believes the recent cold snap will have aided their survival.
“Most of them would have been hunkered down because of the weather, otherwise things would have been a lot worse,” he explained.
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