The families were evacuated from their homes after a forest fire swept through the Dorset heathland, destroying about 17 hectares (42 acres) of wildlife habitat.
Canford Heath in Poole is a 340-hectare nature reserve and site of special scientific interest that is home to rare species including snakes, sand lizards and Dartford warblers, as well as vipers, dragonflies and potties.
Firefighters were called to the fire on Saturday around 17:00. The combination of strong winds and unusually dry vegetation meant that the fire spread dramatically and quickly, with the crew at Ferndown Fire Station declaring it to be the largest fire in the area in years.
At the time of its greatest glory, 80 firefighters and 25 fire trucks fought the fire – 15 pumps, four water carriers and six off-road Land Rover. Most of the fire was extinguished by 10:30 p.m., and firefighters stayed until Sunday to dampen the outbreaks and monitor the area.
The heathland is located next to one of the largest housing estates in Europe and people in 20 houses were evacuated to a nearby leisure center.
On Sunday, a police helicopter was used to order people who wanted to take pictures away from the scene. One man tried to quell part of the fire by stomping, just to keep his coach on fire.
Firefighters have estimated that the fire has destroyed 17 hectares of heaths, and its impact on wildlife has not yet been quantified. A photo taken from the air on Sunday morning shows a blackened moorland very close to home.
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One local, Alex Saxby, said: “I have lived in Canford Heath for about 16 years and it is one of the worst fires I have ever seen. It started at the very top of the heath and reached the bottom very quickly.
“It was scary. When you were standing at the roundabout, you saw flames over bushes and bushes. The wind was very bad, which didn’t help the situation. I went down there when the fire was small, I came home and within half an hour it spread massively. . “
Elizabeth Leddy of Poole said, “The amount of smoke that rolled out was not like the moor fire I had seen before.
Graham Kewley, group manager of the fire and rescue services in Dorset and Wiltshire, said the fire probably started a human act, but “it was probably carelessness rather than any malicious act.” No evidence of barbecue or campfire was found.
Kewley said the unusually dry April led to a rapid spread of the fire. He said: “While the soil beneath it is still wet, the rodent and the vegetation above are unusually dry for the seasons.
“Residents naturally took care of their homes, especially when large bushes and trees set fire in the area, so it looked very bad. We decided to evacuate these inhabitants. The fire did hit the fences of many objects, but our crews managed to prevent it from reaching the real objects.
“Our crews faced very difficult conditions because the wind blew fire at them and visibility was very poor due to the smoke. These residents were able to return to their homes last night at 10 pm after the fire was extinguished. “
Canford Heath is the largest heathland in Dorset and the largest lowland heathland in the United Kingdom. Kewley described it as an internationally important site for reptiles and birds.
Dorset police have called on witnesses or people with relevant footage to report if they can help investigate the cause of the fire.