A major forest fire that destroyed 480 acres of protected forest and killed hundreds of creatures was caused by day trippers who started a barbecue, it was revealed today.
Fire investigators have found the remains of two disposable barbecues in the blackened landscape of Dorset’s Wareham Forest.
They say that these discarded items most likely accidentally lit the tinder-dry forest and heather, an area of special scientific interest and one of the most important in the UK for rare reptiles.
Firefighters have discovered two discarded disposable barbecues at the site of a major fire in Dorset’s Wareham Forest
The fire destroyed 480 acres of protected forest and killed thousands of creatures after they broke out on Monday
At its peak, more than 150 firefighters were involved in the attempt to fight the fire in 48 hours
A huge area of the special area of scientific interest was destroyed after day trippers left their barbecue
The fire broke out on Monday afternoon due to ‘social activity’ in the forest.
The flames were quickly ignited by a strong breeze and spread quickly over the forest. It was so intense that at one point it jumped over a public road.
More than 150 firefighters tackled the fire for two days and were on site all week to muffle hot spots.
In addition to destroying vast moors that are important habitats for wildlife, thousands of reptiles, including grass snakes, vipers, lizards and slow worms, have been killed by the fire.
A Dorset Fire and Rescue spokesman said, “After a fire investigation, we now think the cause of this fire was accidentally caused by social activities in the forest.
“While we can’t pinpoint the exact cause, we’ve found evidence of multiple disposable barbecues, campfires, and glass bottles.”
Firefighters stay on site and muffle hot spots to keep the fire from flaring up again
One of the rarest in the UK, this sand lizard has survived the inferno that raged for two days
Dorset police have opened an investigation into the fire, but have determined it to be an accident
Incident commander Seth Why added, “The general public has no right of access to that area. People should not use disposable barbecues in the countryside. ‘
The Dorset Police Department has since closed a criminal investigation launched since it was determined that the cause was caused accidentally.
Part of a wide area of heathland, Wareham Forest is internationally recognized for the rare habitats and wildlife that inhabit it, including birds such as the nightjar and Dartford warbler and any British reptile species, including the rare smooth snake and sand lizard.
Experts in the wild said that the fire could not have happened at a worse time, as all breeding birds should have left their eggs or young to escape the fire.
Several charities and organizations have helped with the cleanup and rescue mission, including the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC).
An ARC spokesperson said they saved about 40 common lizards, 15 sand lizards and two common toads.
Firefighters found glass bottles and barbecues on site. A glass bottle can direct the sun’s rays onto tinder-dry grass and cause a fire that would spread quickly
Forestry England, which manages Wareham Forest, said it could take another 30 years for the habitat to recover
But he added, “In general, there was very little reptile activity. Reptiles generally cannot escape fire, they try to avoid it or go underground, but most of them would suffocate.
The fire incident itself is still open and there are several hotspots and minor flare-ups. Without significant rain forecast and winds that may pick up today and tomorrow, the situation is far from over.
“That is why reptiles will continue to be rescued on a relatively small scale.
There are all six types of British reptiles in Wareham Forest, as well as all protected bird species.
“This will certainly have a hugely devastating impact on wildlife, it couldn’t be worse.
“We believe this is the biggest fire in Dorset for 30 years.”
Forestry England, which manages Wareham Forest, said it could take another 30 years for the habitat to recover.
Ranger Mark Warner said, “Many of the animals survived and were able to penetrate deep into the vegetation and avoid the fire. But they are now entering a completely black lunar landscape and they will soon be picked by predators, so it is vital that we get in there and be able to move those animals’
Ranger Mark Warner said, “Many of the animals survived and were able to penetrate deep into the vegetation and avoid the fire.
“But they are now entering a completely black lunar landscape and they will soon be picked up by predators, so it is vital that we get in there and be able to move those animals.
Wareham Forest is probably one of the most important sites in the UK for rare British reptiles.
“It will recover, but it will take a long time. To return to the position we were in before the fire, we are realistically talking about 30 years.
“But we see improvements within a year. Since only part of the habitat has been removed, we have lost animals, but we have the opportunity for other animals to move into the area. ‘
They urge the public to stay away from Wareham Forest as hot spots are still being muted.
And have also warned people who visit a forest not to use fire.
Graham Nottage, Dorset Forester for Forestry England, said, “The devastating fire in Wareham Forest this week has shown the magnitude of the fire risk today. We need the help of the public to protect our forests’
Graham Nottage, Dorset Forester for Forestry England, said, “The devastating fire in Wareham Forest this week has shown the magnitude of the fire risk today.
“We need the help of the public to protect our forests.
“If people plan to visit a nearby forest, they shouldn’t use a fire, including disposable or portable barbecues, and put out cigarettes safely.
The fire department has received another orange forest fire alarm – meaning there is an increased risk of forest fires with the dry winds, low humidity and dry heather vegetation – for the holiday weekend.
And since then, an online petition has been launched calling for a ban on disposable barbecues in the province, which has many important moors.
People going out this weekend have been warned against lighting fires or using disposable barbecues because of the threat of fire