UK — WILDFIRES have devastated major forest regeneration projects in the Highlands despite helicopters being brought in to drop water bombs on the blazes.
The National Trust for Scotland said two of its key properties had been badly affected by the fires that started at the weekend, dealing a major blow to the restoration of the Caledonian pine forest.
There were heath fires at Glen Shiel and at Dundonnell in Wester Ross, but worst affected were the estates of Torridon and of Kintail and Morvich.
Six walkers and a dog were airlifted off a ridge in Torridon, away from smoke and flames but no injuries were reported
Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service said approximately 62 engines and 310 personnel had responded to 74 incidents 29 involving heath, moor and forest fires between Friday and midday yesterday.
Despite the best efforts of the crews on the ground, once the fires reached the trees flames rose as high as 40ft
Meanwhile, firefighters were battling a blaze that broke out on the Queens Balmoral Estate yesterday. The fire started on a hill near Loch Muick and was still raging more than five hours after the alarm was raised.
A helicopter was scrambled to the scene and was being used to dump water on the flames as 15 firefighters tried to tackle the inferno from the ground.
Grampian Fire and Rescue were called to the scene at 2.30pm and the hillside was still burning at 8pm. No properties were thought to be under threat. Gary Marsden, factor at Balmoral, said the stately home and castle were not under threat.
The Torridon Estate was transferred to the trust in 1967 and takes in the peaks of Liathach (3456ft) and Beinn Alligin (3230ft).
The 18,362-acre Kintail and Morvich Estate was purchased by the trust in 1944 and includes the Falls of Glomach and the Five Sisters of Kintail. 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 late on Sunday night the flames reached one of the trusts forest regeneration plantations above Kintail Village
The project to regenerate the native pinewoods is one of the largest environmental enterprises in Scotland. A plan to join up existing patches of ancient woodland to re-establish the Caledonian pine forest is one of the trusts key objectives.
This entails the trust working to ensure ancient forest remnants are augmented by new growth, and to develop footpaths that thread through the forest, linking the Moray Firth in the east to Kintail in the west.
The conservation charitys 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 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.
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.
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.
Elsewhere, a fire affecting a large area of scrub and gorse at Glengyle at the northern end of Loch Katrine in the Trossachs was out by yesterday afternoon.