A group flouting lockdown rules in the woods sparked a huge forest fire after the flames from their disposable barbecue set the heathland trees alight.
More than 60 firefighters had to be scrambled to Puddletown Forest, in Dorset, where they spent five hours tackling the blaze. Ten crews attended the incident on Sunday at 4.45pm and managed to extinguish the flames by 9pm.
The huge fire destroyed 2.5 acres of heathland which is home to rare flora and fauna and will take up to 20 years to recover.
A photo of the aftermath shows the scorched remains of the disposable barbecue among the charred grass. The local firefighter said they have seen an increase in similar call-outs since the start of the lockdown.
A walker who spotted smoke in the area raised the alarm but the culprits had vanished by the time the crews arrived.
Sean Blizzard, Dorset and Wiltshire fire safety enforcement manager, said: ‘They mentioned they had seen people having a barbecue but when we arrived there was nobody in the area, although we found the remains of a disposable barbecue.
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‘It is extremely disappointing and very frustrating as this incident could have been easily avoided by not taking it on to the heathland.
‘This was a big incident for us – it destroyed an area of 100m by 100m – and it could have been significantly worse.
‘The flora and fauna has been destroyed and will take up to 20 years to be re-established.
‘We have noticed an increase in call outs for attending out of control bonfires at home and accidental fires since this has started (the coronavirus lockdown).
‘We urge the public to be responsible at this time and follow the government advice.’
A Maiden Newton station spokesperson added: ‘It beggars belief that someone would take a barbecue into a heathland habitat in such dry conditions where vegetation is tinder dry.
‘There have been enough warnings now about not having bonfires of any kind at the moment for peoples’ health and because they can spread without warning.
‘Please please do not have a bonfire and do not barbecue in natural environments. It’s common sense but some people need reminding.’
Over the weekend parks were packed with sunbathers soaking up the sun with officials fearing Britons are getting complacent over social distancing rules as lockdown fatigue kicks in.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock had reminded the public to stick to the rules and urged the public to only leave the house for their daily exercise or to make an essential trip, which means barbecues and sunbathing are not included.
Mr Hancock said: ‘I’ve also seen reports of the police stopping people from having barbecues on the beach and making sure that people follow the social distancing rules.
‘That’s because the rules are there for a reason and that’s because we need to follow the rules in order to protect the NHS and to slow the spread of this virus.’
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