A massive five-day hill fire in Sutherland has been stopped thanks to a huge local effort and a weekend of persistent rain.
By the time the last flames had been extinguished on Saturday around 22,000 acres of moorland and forestry around Strathy in the north of the county had been consumed by the blaze.
Joyce Campbell who farms 5000 acres next to Strathy said: “It didn’t quite reach into my ground but it was worryingly close. The front of the fire was nine miles long . It was quite a sight to see three helicopters water bombing the flames.
“The firefighters worked really hard but they were helped greatly by the gamekeepers and other locals who came along unbidden to help. It was impressive to see them making straight and effective firebreaks a mile long. As hill men they have the experience needed for the job.”
Earlier efforts to stop the fire using a forestry plough had failed with the flames simply leaping the gap.
Ms Campbell, a prominent North Country Cheviot breeder and chairman of the Scottish Government’s Women in Agriculture Taskforce, called for a more cohesive policy for dealing with moorland fires.
She compared it to the fire on Saddleworth Moor in Greater Manchester last year, highlighting it had been around five times the size.
“The damage done to peatland has been enormous and it is now very obvious that we need a new plan.
"There are some difficult conversations to be had including with Scottish Natural Heritage. Everyone needs to work together and take responsibility for the situation.
“I think we need to see firebreaks created over far more of the hill land as preventive measure.”
The lasting damage from last week’s fire is to the moorlands of Sutherland which act as one of the biggest natural carbon stores in Europe.
#thursofirestation #notupwestanymore— Thurso Fire Station🚒 (@FireThur
The crew off Thurso Fire Station would like to thank everyone that donated food and water to the firefighters at the recent hillfire at Strathy, your generosity has touched all our hearts we are truly grateful 🚒🚒🚒 pic.twitter.com/wt0VaHuHzq
#thursofirestation #notupwestanymore— Thurso Fire Station\uD83D\uDE92 (@FireThurso) May 19, 2019
The crew off Thurso Fire Station would like to thank everyone that donated food and water to the firefighters at the recent hillfire at Strathy, your generosity has touched all our hearts we are truly grateful \uD83D\uDE92\uD83D\uDE92\uD83D\uDE92 pic.twitter.com/wt0VaHuHzq
“They are still smouldering. The carbon emissions must have been enormous . People speak about the impact of plastic straws on the environment but this is something far bigger,” said Ms Campbell.
She praised local people for doing everything they could to help including l kindnesses such as baking and producing refreshments for the fire crews, many of whom were working far from home in the most arduous conditions.
Ms Campbell said in that in contrast she had not seen anyone from SNH in attendance during the five day duration of the firefighting operation.
A spokeswoman for SNH said: “We share the concern of the local community and landowners over this large wildfire which has damaged an extensive area of internationally important peatland, including a number of Protected Areas, and caused significant disruption.
“As Scotland’s nature agency we are actively supporting the Fire and Rescue Service and others to reduce the incidence and impacts of wildfire, work driven by the Scottish Wildfire Forum.
“We are also leading work to develop a reliable Fire Danger Rating System for Scotland and increasing the use of satellite imagery to accurately assess the extent and severity of wildfires and develop strategies to combat them.
“In the case of the Strathy wildfire, it appears to have started nearly 2km away from the nearest Protected Area, West Halladale.
“While specifically created firebreaks can prevent, or at least slow down, the rate of spread of fires, we know that there are many instances of fires travelling through areas which have been previously burnt.
“What SNH wants to see are more extensive areas of wet or waterlogged ground that would act as natural fire-breaks and limit damage, should wildfires break out in future. We already driving this forward through the Peatlands Partnership, which is helping to restore the peatlands of Caithness and Sutherland.”