THE cost of the firefighting effort to tackle the blaze that ripped through around 220 hectares of forest and heathland was in the region of half a million pounds.

Crews from across the county, and further afield, fought the fire at Wareham Forest for more than two weeks in May.

The incident has been described as “one of the most devastating fires in Dorset, in living memory’ by a senior officer in the fire service.

Following investigations, it is believed the major situation was started by a disposable barbecue.

The cost of dealing with the situation to Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service (DWFRS) has been revealed to be around £500,000, however, the service hopes to obtain financial support on this from the Government.

Derek James, DWFRS deputy chief fire officer, said: “The Wareham Forest fire in May was one of the most devastating fires in Dorset, in living memory.

“I am extremely proud of the hard work of our dedicated firefighters and staff who worked tirelessly to bring this incident to a safe conclusion.

“We are also extremely indebted to our partners and agencies that supported us during this difficult incident and the kind support from the local community.”

Conservation experts have said that it will take decades for the damaged areas of Wareham Forest to recover from the blaze, while a fundraising appeal was launched to restore the “precious, yet fragile” environment.

Mr James added: “The fire highlighted just how devastating and resource intensive heath and forest fires can be.

“The cost of this incident stands at around £500,000 which we are seeking to partially recover from Government.

“As there is an amber wildfire alert out again this weekend, we would ask residents and visitors to be extremely careful and thoughtful if they are having campfires and barbecues to help protect our beautiful open spaces.

“Portable barbecues are especially worrying if they are used and disposed of without due care and we would urge people not to use them in these environmentally sensitive locations.”

The blaze scorched heathland, destroyed woodlands and wiped out critical habitats for wildlife across an area equivalent to the size of 350 football pitches.

Along with scores of firefighters tackling the incident on the ground, a helicopter was drafted in to assist. This was the first time air support had ever been used to directly pour water onto a fire in the county.

The blaze broke out on Monday, May 18, and within hours more than 150 crew members were on the scene attempting to get the incident under control.

Smoke could be seen from miles away and it took more than two weeks to extinguish the fire.

Since the incident, Purbeck Police has reported finding evidence of people still lighting fires in the area.

And just yesterday, the fire service sent crews from Wareham and Bere Regis to deal with reports of an unattended camp fire at Wareham Forest.