FIREFIGHTERS scrambled to Hengistbury Head this afternoon after a blaze broke out across a large section of heathland.

The fire, which is thought to have been started deliberately, engulfed a section on land near the former ironstone quarry in the middle of the reserve.

Two fire engines and two Land Rovers from Christchurch and Ferndown fire stations were called in to tackle the fire, which was brought under control by around 2pm.

Clem Stanley, station manager at Dorset Fire and Rescue Service, said the exact cause of the blaze is not yet known.

He said: “It seems to have been started deliberately but we won't know until an investigation has been carried out.”

He added: “Heath fires are dangerous and they take up a lot of the fire service's resources that may be needed elsewhere. They also have an environmental impact on the wildlife as well as being dangerous to the people using the heath.”

Mark Chaters, who was walking in the area at the time, said he saw large plumes of smoke billowing from the reserve.

“There was lots of smoke,” he said.

“It was probably 20ft to 25ft high.”

Mandy Thomas, who was walking her dog at the time, added: “We saw plumes of billowing smoke and then the fire engines rushed past.”

“It's sad,” she added. “We come here every week and have never seen anything like this.”

The land train was suspended this afternoon to allow the fire crews to tackle the blaze.

Natalie Fisher, manager at Hengistbury Head Visitor Centre, said until the rangers are able to assess the area they do not know how much damage was caused.

She added: “Fortunately this is a rare occurrence. I can’t remember the last time there was a serious fire at Hengistbury Head. We have got away with it up until now and I hope we continue to get away with it in the future.”