United Kingdom — NEARLY 2,000 acres of upland common and peat bog in Brecon Beacons National Park has been severely damaged by a fire in what National Park wardens are calling the worst heath land fire in 30 years.
For three days wardens from Brecon Beacons National Park Authority and the Fire Brigade have been battling a catastrophic fire between Trapp, Brynamman and Llandeilo which has seen an area of more than 2,000 acres of peat bog and one of the most important SSSI sites in the National Park suffer severe damage.
The situation took a dramatic turn for the worse on Tuesday with a sudden change of wind, and military assistance was requested late yesterday evening to help tackle the blaze.
Although the fire has not been fully contained, the situation has improved, and wardens are hopeful that with continued assistance from fire crews and the military, the fire will be brought under control later tonight.
Judith Harvey, western area warden for Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, said that the fire was not threatening any properties, but was the worst heath land fire she’d seen in more than 30 years.
“This fire continues to burn and logistically it has been extremely difficult to access.
“We have been fortunate enough to have the support of Brecon Carreg Water who’ve offered us an unlimited supply of water, but the only way of attacking the mile-long fire front at the moment is with quad bikes and water bowsers which is time consuming and problematic.
“We have also had military assistance, staffed by the Infantry Battle School in Brecon, which has been a huge help to tackle areas of the deep set peat bog which is still on fire.
“For our wardens who’ve spent years working to rejuvenate this site as one of the most pristine and priority habitats in the National Park, this is particularly demoralising,” she said.
Paul Sinnadurai, ecologist and senior policy advisor for Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, said: “This site was one of our most important heather moorland habitats and this fire has had an utterly devastating effect.
“The fire has burned with such intensity that it has reached down into carbon-rich peat bog so the long term effects of this are immeasurable – it could very well take years to recover.
“When peat bog is damaged in this way it reduces its capacity to hold water, releases carbon and increases surface water runoff, flood risk and causes erosion problems in the future.
“For many years we have worked with the local fire services and the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) to carry out consented controlled burns in this area in order to rejuvenate the heather and improve conditions for grazing and for biodiversity.
“All that hard work has now been undone.
“We are not yet clear if this fire was started deliberately but if it was it amounts to a wildlife crime.
“Ground-nesting birds like skylarks, meadow pipit, red grouse, hen harriers and merlins have been killed and the fire has left a trail of habitat destruction for miles.”
Thick plumes of smoke could be seen as far away as Llandeilo as the fire broke into seven fronts but besides the fire on Mynydd Isaf Common, other fires across the Brecon Beacons National Park continue to burn.
Wardens from the National Park will continue to issue fire warnings throughout the coming weeks and are urging people to remain vigilant during the warm, dry weather.
Chris Davies, Assistant Chief Fire Officer for Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, said: “Crews from Ammanford and Pontardawe are at the scene of this blaze, and firefighters are working with the National Park authorities to try and minimise damage to wildlife and infrastructure.
“We have not yet established the cause of the fire, but we cannot rule out deliberate fire-setting at this stage.
“Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service frequently see an increase in grass fires at this time of year due to the dry weather and wind.
“We are reminding the public to take care around dry grass, for example by being vigilant when extinguishing cigarettes.”
Judith Harvey said: “We are facing a period of grave fire danger and our wardens will be patrolling our high risk areas and advising people of the increased risk in the National Park.
“We are urging people not to light barbecues and campfires in open countryside and not to release or light any Chinese lanterns.
“People also need to think responsibly about how they dispose of cigarette butts, lighters, glass bottles and matches.
“If anyone does see a fire or someone acting irresponsibly, they should report it quickly to the fire service by phoning 999 so that they can take appropriate action.”
The Fire Severity Index in the Brecon Beacons National Park continues to remain at ‘ high’ and ‘exceptional’.