Highlands fire damage costs could hit £26.5m

WILDFIRES that devastated parts of the Highlands recently could have caused up to £26.5 million worth of damage, the area's fire chief has estimated.

Between 29 April and 5 May the Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service tackled more than 70 significant fire outbreaks caused by a period of very dry weather which left many parts of the area like a tinderbox. Homes and a campsite were evacuated and people airlifted from mountains to avoid the danger.

The service's chief fire officer, Trevor Johnson, said it is only now the true impact of the fires can be assessed.

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He said the direct financial cost of the wildfires to the service was more than 125,000, including the cost of callouts and 5,000 for equipment destroyed by the blazes.

Mr Johnson said the extended costs are more difficult to quantify as land managers provided staff and financed the helicopter operations which were required to water bomb some fires which were inaccessible by foot.

But he said the fires also had a wider impact to the environment as they damaged conservation areas and Sites of Special Scientific Interest, including areas of ancient Caledonian pine forest which was being restored.

The costs involved included effects on local economies and tourism in remote and rural areas.

Mr Johnson said research on wildfires following fires in Yorkshire in 2003 estimated the cost of reinstating moorland to be between 800 and 2,900 per hectare.

During the six days of wildfires in the Highlands and Islands, which stretched from Caithness to Argyll and included the Western Isles, it is estimated that 9,100 hectares of vegetation cover, including 3,200 hectares of forestry was destroyed.