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Fire crews 'really stepped up for us'

By Caroline McMorran

Station manager Jason Gardiner praised his crews for their hard work and commitment and also thanked the community for its support.
Station manager Jason Gardiner praised his crews for their hard work and commitment and also thanked the community for its support.

Tribute has been paid to the “sheer professionalism, dedication and resilience” of firefighters who battled the wildfire that broke out in Melvich a week ago and took days to bring under control.

Sutherland councillors have joined with RSPB – who feared for the Forsinard nature reserve - and Melvich residents to praise the fire crews and others such as local gamekeepers from Bigmore and Strathmore estates, and RSPB staff who helped beat back the blaze

And in turn, the Melvich community and local businesses has been thanked for the support shown to firefighters who were kept supplied with food and drink and a place to rest.

The blaze is understood to be the largest wildfire in Scotland since 2003.

A spokesperson for the RSPB said: “There has been an enormous collaborative effort to help fight the wildfire. This has been a great example of co-operative community working to help common interests across a vast area with great communication between all involved on an hourly basis.”

Firefighters were first called to the scene at Melvich at 10.12pm on Sunday, May 12, and worked round the clock for close to 10 days to combat it. A significant area between Melvich and Strathy has been scorched.

At one point the blaze came close to encroaching upon the village itself and the Forsinard nature reserve was also under threat as flames burned through 25 square kilometres of managed estates bordering the reserve. Smoke could be seen from miles away.

Crews from Thurso, Wick, Dunbeath, Kinlochbervie and Tongue were among those called out. Helicopters were brought in to water bomb hot spots

Members of Melvich Village Hall committee opened up the hall and put on food and drink for the units.

Firefighters have now been stood down but the service is continuing to monitor the area for any reignitions.

Jason Gardiner, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service station manager for the Highland north district told Sutherland County Committee on Wednesday that considerable resources had been expended with “88 fire appliance movements and 62 fire engine movements” plus the cost of helicopters.

He said: “I would like to praise the crews for their work and commitment but I also want to highlight the support we have had from employers and the community as well as the hard work from our operational control room who ensured we had strategic cover and resilience across the rest of the region while crews were away fighting the blaze.”

Mr Gardiner added: “Early indications suggest that the Melvich fire was accidental. We are 99 per cent certain what the cause was and will work with partners to prevent it.”

County committee chairman Cllr Richard Gale described the fire service’s response as “phenomenal” while local Cllr Deirdre Mackay praised the “sheer professionalism, dedication and resilience” of the teams.

North, west and central Sutherland councillor Hugh Morrison, a former firefighter, thanked employers and local residents for the goodwill shown.

Local people have spoken about the impact the fire has had on them.

Alex Patience, Portskerra, said: “I sing with Melvich Gaelic Choir and I can feel the effect all the smoke in the atmosphere has had on my voice. Other singers have said their voices have also been affected.”

She added: “The fire service crews have been excellent in their efforts to control the fire and ensure that residents are safe.”

Strathy Point B&B operator Patsy Macaskill said that a Swiss couple booked with her had been quite distressed and had not wanted to stay because of the smoke.

A spokesman for Melvich Hotel said that although the fire had been a concern, it had not affected business.

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