Cannich wildfire: Scottish government to raise awareness of risk after potentially record-breaking blaze
The wildfire, in the hills above Loch Ness, had burned through more than 6,000 hectares - with suggestions it may be the biggest on record for Scotland
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The Scottish Government has pledged to raise awareness of the risk of wildfires following a potentially record-breaking blaze in the Highlands which has burned through thousands of hectares – after local reports it may have been started by wild campers.
The fire at Cannich, in the hills above Loch Ness, is now in its fifth day with four fire engines and specialist resources still working at the scene. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) says it was alerted to the blaze on Sunday (28 May) shortly before 1pm. Crews had previously attended fires in the same area on four separate occasions since Tuesday (23 May).
New satellite images from NASA show smoke from the blaze can be seen from space, with a plume visibly drifting towards the loch amid clear skies.
SFRS said its own investigation into what caused the Cannich fire is ongoing, but they said the blaze had burned through at least 6,400 hectares. Helicopters are being used to waterbomb the area.
Conservative MSP Rachael Hamilton said the fire was “estimated to become the largest by area on record”, adding that it was a “stark reminder of the risks our emergency service men and women take day in day out to keep out”.
Labour Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant said that in Cannich the suggestions were it was caused by wild camping. She asked Community safety minister Siobhian Brown if she would "look at ways of how to better educate people on the Countryside Code when they are enjoying the outdoors".
Brown said she did not “have that inside information on how the fire was actually started”. But she added she was happy to look at Grant’s suggestion and “see how we can raise awareness and prevent it in the future”.
The minister thanked all the firefighters and others involved in tackling the blaze. She added: “The weather and the condition of vegetation at this time of year lends themselves to fires starting easily and spreading quickly.
“It is crucial people act safely and responsibly, one heat source can cause ignition and if the wind changes direction the smallest fire can spread and devastate entire communities, hillsides, livestock, farmland, wildlife, protected woodland and sites of special interest," she added.
While responding to the incident on Tuesday (30 May) two firefighters were injured after an all-terrain vehicle they were travelling in was in an accident, SFRS said. Both were transported via air ambulance to hospital for treatment, but have now been released from hospital.
SFRS group commander Niall MacLennan said: “As the warm and dry weather continues, so too does the risk of wildfire. The ongoing incident at Cannich shows just how large these fires can become."
A mixture of seasonal weather conditions combined with very dry and dead vegetation meant there was a heightened risk of fires, he said, which can easily be sparked by careless disposal of cigarettes, as well as barbecues or campfires left unattended.
“Many of our rural and remote communities are hugely impacted by these incidents, which can cause significant environmental and economic damage," MacLennan said. “Cannich has been a challenging incident and our crews are working tirelessly to tackle the fire and stop further spread."
“Extinguishing a fire on this scale requires a large amount of resources, including the use of helicopters to bolster our response. We will remain on scene until we make the area safe.”
The service has extended a wildfire warning across much of Scotland until Monday. The warning has been in place since May 26, and grades the risk of wildfires as “very high” in most of East, Central, and South Scotland.
Ross Ewing, Scottish Land & Estates moorland director, told PA their thoughts were with the firefighters who were injured while battling the blaze. “Nearly 3,000 hectares of land have already been burned in this fire, and it follows on from the huge wildfire near Glenuig in April, which was estimated to be the second largest ever recorded in the UK."
He continued: “Wildfires have a devastating impact on wildlife and habitats, generating catastrophic carbon emissions. They are becoming increasingly frequent in Scotland, partly due to climate change and partly due to a lack of fuel load management in some areas."
The Cannich wildfire demonstrated how important it was to manage the fuel load - or amount of burnable material - of vegetation across estate land, he said, which has been shown to increase wildfire risk. "We hope the situation at Cannich will soon be contained so that the scale and extent of damage can be assessed."
Mr Ewing said: “We urging anyone going out into the countryside to take care and follow guidance in relation to campfire cooking and when the ground is so dry it’s recommended not to use either a campfire or a camping stove.”