A number of large wildfires have taken place in upland areas in recent days, and in the ongoing drought conditions fire warnings have been issued across the UK.
On 3rd-6th May several fire crews battled a large blaze that broke out in open ground between the village of Lochinver and the landmark peak of Suilven. The flames are said to have lit up the night sky for miles around.
UKHillwalking contributor Kevin Woods, who happened to be working in the area at the time, said:
"I recently visited the Lochinver area, and had the tremendous luck to time the trip along with the recent high pressure, which brought a week of cloudless skies. Slightly unexpected however, was to see that most iconic mountain, Suilven, start to belch smoke and flames at some point during the afternoon of Wednesday 3rd May."
"The fire seemed to have started on the southern flank of the mountain, part-way between the summit ridge and the Fionn Loch. Driven on persistent easterly winds, it began to migrate westward in the direction of Lochinver, and by nightfall the coastal area was under a black blanket of smoke and gently falling ash. "
"By the following morning, the 4th May, the fire had reached the moors immediately behind Lochinver and the fire crews were on hand to deal with any threat to property. Up on Suilven, the fire had began to wrap itself around the mountain, with tendrils of flame reaching up the southern flank as well as isolated patches to the north-west of Caisteal Liath. This same evening, the fire also intensified immediately outside Glencanisp Lodge (photographed). Early the following morning (the 5th), the fire crews seemed to have dealt with that outbreak and the fire had thus passed its peak. The fires around Caisteal Liath burned for a little longer, but were completely extinguished by the 6th May."
"The only evidence now are the burnt, black heathlands extending west from the mountain to the coast. The isolated patches of birchwood went unscathed, the fire couldn’t migrate beyond the heather. Having seen Liathach go spectacularly up in flames back in 2011, it’s quite strange to see yet another iconic mountain do the same!"
In recent days large fires have also taken place in the Ochil Hills near Stirling, and in Glen Etive.
The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) has reminded the public to be aware of the increased wildfire risk, as the dry windy weather continues and the hills are now as dry as tinder.
SFRS Deputy Assistant Chief Officer Andy Coueslant said:
“Many rural and remote communities are hugely impacted by wildfires, which can cause significant environmental and economic damage."
“Livestock, farmland, wildlife, protected woodland and sites of special scientific interest can all be devastated by these fires - as can the lives of people living and working in rural communities."
“Human behaviour can significantly lower the chance of a wildfire starting so it’s crucial people act safely and responsibly in rural environments and follow the countryside code.”
In these conditions a single stray spark from a campfire or cigarette butt can be all it takes, and if the wind changes direction even the smallest fire can spread uncontrollably and devastate entire hillsides.
Meanwhile in the North York Moors, the reduction in rainfall, coupled with very dry ground vegetation such as heather and bracken, has prompted the National Park Authority to put the area on fire alert. Warning signs have been put up on key sites advising people what they can do to help to reduce the risk.
Even if rain is forecast, it may not be enough to make a difference to conditions on the moors, say the Park Authority.
Bernie McLinden, Senior Ranger (coast) at the North York Moors National Park said:
“Past experience has shown us that under these types of conditions, moorland fires can spread extremely quickly causing significant damage to the landscape and its wildlife. The message we want to give to people is please do come and enjoy the North York Moors and, as the majority of moorland fires can be prevented, please take extra care and follow the advice on the signs, such as avoiding lighting fires and BBQs and to not discard cigarettes, matches or glass bottles including throwing cigarette ends out of car windows.”
If people see a fire, they should report it quickly to the fire service by dialing 999 so that they can take the appropriate action.