A HEATHLAND blaze at a Poole nature reserve threatened nearby homes at the weekend.

Firefighters were initially called to Alder Hills Nature Reserve on Saturday afternoon to reports of a fire measuring 40 metres square.

But the wildfire, driven by strong winds, quickly enveloped an area of protected heathland at least twice that size.

Bournemouth Echo:

Picture and footage above by Mark Marschall 

Witnesses told the Daily Echo how the fire spread from a lake, up a hill towards nearby houses, at a rapid rate.

On Sunday, the edge of the blackened heathland was around 50 yards from a row of houses.

Bournemouth Echo:

Resident Paul Curtis, from Melbury Avenue, Poole, said: "We were here from when the flames just started and we saw it all spreading, it moved up the hill in about ten seconds, it was so quick.

"I saw major flames going up."

Bournemouth Echo:

Mr Curtis, a regular visitor to the nature reserve, said he felt "sickened" about the destruction caused.

He added: "The trees behind the house were seconds from catching alight, but they (firefighters) managed to stop it. Then the wind started blowing the fire back down the hill

"They were lucky, you could see they were struggling.

"They had to get Land Rovers up the hill to stop the flames getting to the houses behind."

The official cause of the fire is currently unknown, but some locals believe a barbecue down by the lake may have got out of hand.

Bournemouth Echo:

Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service (DWFRS) say often, in heath fires of this size, what actually sparked the blaze may never be known.

DWFRS were called to the scene just before 4.10pm on Saturday, and had the fire surrounded by 5.30pm.

Firefighters from Redhill Park and Springbourne attended along with three Land Rovers from Poole, Ferndown and Hamworthy and the Unimog all-terrain vehicle from Wareham fire station.

Bournemouth Echo:

 Picture by @cjwiseman72

Crews left the scene around 9pm after damping down the area, but returned to check for hot spots the following morning.

Final estimates on the area destroyed stand at 75 metres by 100 metres.

Mr Curtis said: "This is where we live, we need to take care of this land. It is going to take years for it to grow back, when you think about all the wildlife that has been lost, all the little critters, it is just wrong.

"It is really sickening."

Bournemouth Echo:

Wildlife experts told the Echo it could take up to 20 years for the heathland to get back to its pre-fire state.

Another neighbour, from Branksome Hill Road, Poole, said: "We heard the sirens and there are lots of rumours as to the cause.

"My view is that fires like this are caused through carelessness, there may have been no intent.

"But all it takes is the tiniest little spark."