Two large wildfires raged across the hills of Ross-shire over the weekend, causing widespread damage to two of the National Trust for Scotland's (NTS) key mountain properties, the Torridon and Kintail & Morvich Estates. The fire in Kintail is still burning freely.
At several points the fires threatened Inveralligin forestry scheme and Torridon village, as well as Torridon House and nearby woodlands. In Kintail firefighters had to work hard to protect Invershiel, but unfortunately late on Sunday night the flames reached one of the Trust's forest regeneration plantations above Kintail Village and the A87.
'As of this morning [Tuesday] the situation in Torridon is now under control, but yesterday evening the fire in Kintail seemed to get a second wind' Sarah Cuthbert-Kerr of the NTS tells us. 'Our latest information is that it is now burning freely, heading towards the Five Sisters. We understand that some properties nearby have been evacuated.'
The Kintail regeneration is part of a carefully orchestrated plan to join up existing patches of ancient woodland by re-establishing the Caledonian pine forest, and is one of the Trust's key conservation objectives. In some of Scotland's most spectacular landscapes, ancient forest remnants are being augmented by new growth. Footpaths thread through the forest, linking the Moray Firth in the east to Kintail.
The Trust's Director of Property and Visitor Services, Pete Selman said:
'Despite the best efforts of the crews on the ground, once the fires reached the trees, the flames leapt as high as 40 feet. At one point [on Sunday] it looked as if the plantation might have been saved but the fires flared up again and, as it was getting dark the teams had to come off the hill for their own safety.'
'The loss of the mature trees is heartbreaking to all those involved in forest regeneration in the area over many years. However, the main thing is that no-one was hurt. We will look at our options once the immediate priorities are dealt with and our aim will be to begin re-establishment of the affected area of forest once again.'
With fires still burning at Kintail, senior staff of the Trust expressed deep gratitude for the efforts of all involved, notably Highland Fire Brigade, the Coastguard and the Trust's own locally-based teams in tackling the extensive and highly dangerous blazes.
Pete Selman added:
'The first priority was to ensure the safety of all people in the area, including local residents and walkers out on the hills. Firefighters then had to battle to keep the flames away from houses and farms. Crews showed great courage and determination in tackling the fires, which were being stoked by a combination of very dry and warm conditions and strong winds. The scale of the fires was such that it was necessary to call out a helicopter to water bomb them and we are thankful that these efforts ensured that no-one was injured.'
The fire service is expected to conduct an investigation into the causes of the fires in due course. In the unusually dry conditions currently being experienced in the Highlands the NTS is keen to remind people to be extra vigilant, not to discard glass or cigarette ends, and to light no fires.
'These events are a salutary reminder of why we ask all visitors to our countryside properties to take extra care and apply common sense and not light fires or barbecues in close proximity to dry heather, grass and scrubland' said Selman.
The current forecast is for the combination of dry, warm weather and strong winds to persist until later this week.
Local photographer Steve Carter has kindly allowed us to publish his amazing photos of the Torridon fire. For more images (also general landscapes for sale) visit his website