INVESTIGATIONS are ongoing into the ‘deliberately started’ heath fire at Upton which destroyed 0.6 hectares of land and caused “dreadful” losses to wildlife.

More than 60 firefighters attended the blaze at Upton Heath on Thursday, August 4, which was extinguished using three main lines, four 4x4 pumping appliances and a Unimog.

At the height of the incident, there were crews in attendance from Redhill Park, Westbourne, Wimborne, Springbourne, Christchurch, Bere Regis, Ferndown, Poole (x3) and Blandford, together with small 4x4 appliances from Wimborne, Hamworthy, Christchurch and Blandford, the Unimog from Wareham, water carriers from Ringwood and Poole, and a support appliance from Dorchester.

The call to stop came at 5.22pm but several crews remained on scene dampening down hotspots.

Bournemouth Echo: Upton Heath fire on August 4, 2022Upton Heath fire on August 4, 2022

The last appliance left the incident just before 9.40pm and a reinspection was carried out at 7.30am on Friday morning where several hotspots were identified and dampened down. Another reinspection took place at 11am.

A Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue spokesperson said: “While the cause of the fire is still under investigation, it is believed at this stage to have been started deliberately, although intent is unknown.”

While a cattle herd was moved safely away from the flames, the death toll for smaller wildlife is unknown and officials say it will take time before the full scale of the fire is known.

The impact on wildlife was described as “dreadful” by Dorset Wildlife Trust chief executive Brian Bleese, who noted the fire service averted a “major disaster” with their response.

Bournemouth Echo: Wildlife killed in the Upton Heath fire. Picture: Luke Johns/Dorset Wildlife TrustWildlife killed in the Upton Heath fire. Picture: Luke Johns/Dorset Wildlife Trust

He told the Echo: “The fire was not fanned by the wind and did not spread as fast as it might have which is good news. However, this can sometimes mean that the fire burns deeper and hotter which can lead to a greater impact on reptiles sheltering in underground burrows.

“Another factor affecting reptiles is loss of cover following a fire, exposing them to increased risk of predation.”

Urban Heaths Partnership team manager Paul Attwell added: “The area itself is quite devastated and we’ve had teams down there looking for any surviving reptiles, but I imagine there will be great loss. Any fires of this kind are devastating for wildlife but especially so this time of year because they burn so deep.”

Paul added all six native reptile species live on Upton Heath and that it could take up to 25 years for the landscape to fully recover.