Highlands and Islands wildfire prosecution warning

Wildfire in Benbecula on Monday morning. Picture: submitted

Wildfire in Benbecula on Monday morning. Picture: submitted

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LANDOWNERS have been warned they could face prosecution over uncontrolled blazes after firefighters tackled nearly 100 wildfires across the Highlands and Islands over the Easter weekend.

Helicopters were drafted in to douse flames, and more than 30 fire engines and 150 firefighters were deployed as properties were threatened by wildfires spread during the annual muirburn – when hillsides are deliberately set alight to clear old foliage for re-growth.

At least ten hillsides were ablaze out of control yesterday afternoon in areas including the hills around Fort William, Strontian, Mallaig, Ullapool, Skye and the Western Isles.

Yesterday, fire chiefs reported services had been “extremely stretched” over the weekend after they were called out to more than 80 wildfires in just 72 hours.

The legal muirburn season will end in a fortnight and a spokeswoman for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service urged land managers to follow safety procedures in the coming days.

She warned they could face charges if they fail to adhere to the Scottish Government’s muirburn code.

“Potentially, you could be prosecuted if the manner in which it is carried out it not compliant [with the code] or is a particular dangerous,” said the spokeswoman.

Highlands and Islands fire chiefs yesterday also called on holidaymakers and walkers to be aware of an added risk of accidental fire starting.

Last week, a spokesman for Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue said much of the region was “tinder dry”.

Among the major wildfires dealt with over the weekend was one on Eilean Shona, where fire crews from Fort William, Mallaig, Acharacle, Lochaline and Strontian were taken in by Rigid Inflatable Boat and spent more than 16 hours tackling the blaze with the help of a helicopter crew.

Last week, more than 30 fire-fighters battled to stop a wildfire around Strontian on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, where flames two-miles across were encroaching on the village.

A spokesman for the service said: “Highlands and Islands Fire Control and all attending fire crews have worked extremely hard alongside landowners with aerial support from Helicopters, in some cases for days, to contain and extinguish fires which on several occasions were in close proximity to property.

“I would like to thank all who have exerted great efforts to bring these fires to a safe conclusion over this extremely challenging period.”

Muirburning is practised by hill farmers and land managers to burn off rough, hill grasses and long, mature heather to improve grazing for sheep and grouse. It is also believed to reduce the numbers of disease-carrying ticks.

In Scotland, below 450m (1,500 feet) above sea level, muirburn is normally permitted only between the 1 October and 15 April. According to the government’s Muirburn code, negligence in carrying it out could also result in liability to civil damages.

Fire safety information:

The Muirburn Code – www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/158517/0042975.pdf.

Prescribed Burning on Moorland, A Supplement to The Muirburn Code: A Guide to Best Practice www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/15821/0042977.pdf.

Fire Safety outdoors: www.directscot.org/article/fire-safety-barbecues-camping-and-the-outdoors.

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