‘Devastating’ Stoborough heath fire caused by barbecue

A fire started by a portable barbecue has ‘decimated’ a hectare of RSPB-owned heathland at Stoborough near Wareham, killing rare wildlife.

The smoke from the blaze, which happened just after 2 pm on Sunday 26th June, was so thick that the main road between Wareham and Corfe Castle was closed, causing major travel disruption.

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Dead animal at Stoborough Heath after fire
Peter Robertson
Dead animal at Stoborough Heath after fire
Peter Robertson

The remains of a lizard and a smooth snake that were discovered by RSPB wardens after the fire

A hedge was set alight by the barbecue

Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service says that around a hectare of grassland, heath and gorse was affected by the fire, which it says was started accidentally when a portable ‘kettle drum’ barbecue was lit and the strong winds caused the adjacent hedge to catch alight.

Group manager from Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service Charlie Pack said:

“This incident shows just how careful we need people to be when they’re near heathland. The barbecue was only a couple of metres away from the hedgerow and the strong winds caused the flames to quickly take hold and spread.

“Our crews did a great job in getting the fire surrounded, but there has still been significant damage to the countryside, which could have been avoided with a bit more thought.”

Heath fire at Stoborough
Wareham Fire Station
Heath fire at Stoborough
Swanage Fire Station

Designated as a National Nature Reserve

Stoborough Heath, owned and managed by RSPB Arne, is part of Purbeck Heaths, an area designated as a National Nature Reserve. It was created to help preserve the heathland and the rare wildlife that the habitat supports.

Alongside photos showing the wildlife burnt by the fire, RSPB Arne posted:

“Devastating heathland fire at RSPB Stoborough Heath yesterday afternoon.

“The fire blazed through gorse and heather in no time, decimating over a hectare of biodiverse heathland habitat and causing death to wildlife, including common lizard, slow worm and rare smooth snake and sand lizard.

“Huge thanks to the teams from Wareham Fire Station and across the Dorset and Wiltshire Fire Rescue region and the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service for responding so quickly and averting an even more catastrophic outcome for heathland wildlife.”

Heath fire at Stoborough
Swanage Fire Station
Heath fire at Stoborough
Wareham Fire Station

Extensive fire and rescue resources deployed

At the height of the fire there were around 50 firefighters tackling the fire.

The extensive resources deployed included crews from Swanage, Wareham, three from Poole, Redhill Park, Westbourne, Springbourne and Wimborne, together with a small 4×4 appliance from Swanage, water carriers from Ringwood and Bridport, a support unit from Hamworthy, and the Unimog from Wareham.

Heath fire at Stoborough
Wareham Fire Station
Swanage Fire Station

Closed the road

The nearby A351 between Wareham and Corfe Castle was closed for several hours while the fire was tackled.

By 4 pm, the fire was under control but crews remained on scene until after midnight, dealing with hotspots and damping down.

Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue has reiterated its campaign message to encourage people to have a picnic, avoiding the need to light fires or barbecues.

Heath fire at Stoborough
Wareham Fire Station
Heath fire at Stoborough
Swanage Fire Station

Legal ban on barbecues not implemented in most of Purbeck

Dorset Council introduced anti-social legislation in April 2022 which effectively brought in a legal ban on lighting outdoor fires including barbecues, for parts of Dorset.

However most of the Purbeck Heaths, including Stoborough Heath, as well as Swanage and Studland have been left unprotected by a Public Space Protection Order. A Dorset Council official said at the time that he had not come across enough evidence in the area to justify a ban.

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