Pirbright fire Flames flare up as area ‘completely wiped out’

Three days on from the blaze initially breaking out, flames again ravaged a wide area of the Ash/Pirbright ranges on Saturday.

A conservationist has reacted with horror to the continuation on Saturday of a massive blaze that has already destroyed 30 hectares of land in the Pirbright area.

Around 90 firefighters were called to tackle the latest flames on the Ash/Pirbright ranges.

Damian Bond, a conservation contractor with Red Kite Conservationist Services Ltd, said: “It’s pretty devastating to tell the truth. The range has gone. It’s not a pretty sight.

“There are quite strong winds and they are fanning it [the fire]. It’s spread across the whole range by the look of it. It’s not very nice."

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Mr Bond said the range was home to a number of species including the Dartford warbler, woodlark and nightjar birds as well as reptiles including adders, common lizards, sand lizards and the smooth snake.

“It’s an internationally important area,” he added.

“I would say it’s completely wiped out now. It’s pretty tragic.”

Eyewitness Richard Spencer has lived in Mill Lane, Pirbright, for 40 years.

He said he walked up over Stoney Castle Ranges on Saturday and saw the fire "blazing peacefully away".

“I took some pictures a couple of metres away from the flames,” he added.

“A civilian police helicopter flew over a couple of times but we’ve got an army in Aldershot and you would have thought they’d have everyone out to beat the flames.

“On the Pirbight side, there’s no-one and most of that danger area is a SSSI [Site of Special Scientific Interest].

“I’m concerned it’s going to spread further and do even more damage.

“It’s a wonderful green lung between all these immense conurbations and if it’s burnt to a cinder it will be another 10 years before we get it back.”

'Really fast'

Another eyewitness, Ian Launchbury, said: “I was in my room and looked out of the window to see this huge cloud of smoke, and thought it was huge so had to go and look.

"I got one of my mates and we walked through the ranges from Ash Vale to a hill and could see the smoke in the distance.

“Then we saw flames and they had spread in about 15 minutes or less, so were really, really fast.

"We were watching with a group of people for 40 minutes. Then we were asked to move and leave by the fire service.”

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Juliette Purr, who lives in Barnsley Close near to Keogh Barracks, was helping man road closure barriers along Mytchett Place Road as firefighters raced to and from the scene.

“The fire started on Wednesday and it just keeps flaring up,” she said. “But this is the worst I’ve seen it so far.

“One of the firemen just told me it’s out of control.

“They’re got pretty much all of Surrey [fire service] here and a lot of Hampshire are coming to help.

“They said they did have it under control but it’s just started off again because it’s so dry.

“There’s a possibility we might have to get evacuated but they said they’d let us know.”

'Bad smell'

Mrs Purr said Wednesday’s fire started in the Stoney Castle Ranges area but had now spread closer to her home.

“It’s never been as bad as this,” she added.

“We could smell it, but not as bad as it is now.”

Mother-of-two Charlie Rowe from Southwood, Farnborough, said: “We were driving up past the airfield on the way to walk the dog and all you could see was thick, dark smoke filling the sky.

“As we got to Ash Vale Way it was really billowing black smoke coming from behind the train station. We were saying we would have been petrified if we lived any closer that way.

“We then saw Land Rovers filled with firemen heading towards the smoke so we decided to head back towards Belmead to walk the dog.”

Surrey Police has closed a number of roads and is urging members of the public to avoid the area.

Inspector Mark Bridge said: “While it might be tempting to come and see the fire, I would strongly urge the public to stay away.

“This is for your own safety and so that the emergency services can continue to do their jobs without fearing for the safety of others.

“This message also applies to anybody who is thinking of walking in any of the countryside in the surrounding area.

“The plumes of smoke are currently being blown towards the Ash Vale area. If you live in that area and have any respiratory problems, then I would advise you to stay indoors and close your windows.”

The roads closed include Mytchett Place Road near to Keogh Close, Guildford Road at the junction with Old Guildford Road, Guildford Road at the junction with Mytchett Bridge Road, Grapemouth Road at the junction with Gole Road and Stanley Hill Grange Road at the junction with Mytchett Park Road.

'Avoid the area'

A Surrey Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said on Saturday evening: "We have 12 fire appliances and a number of specialist wild fire vehicles in attendance, with approximately 70 firefighters.

"Surrey are working closely with the surrounding fire services, police, Surrey County Council emergency planning, the Forestry Commission, wildlife trust, the military and other partners to deal with the incident.

"The fire can be seen from a considerable distance, with smoke affecting surrounding areas including Pirbright Common, Ash Ranges, Deepcut and Mytchett.

"The fire service requests residents to avoid the scene, please do not walk or drive through the affected areas.

"We will remain in attendance for a considerable period and continue to fight the fire and provide public assurance.

"Surrey Fire and Rescue Service would like to ask the public to remain vigilant and notify the fire service of any fires immediately.

"We are requesting that members of the public avoid the use of barbeques, bonfires and smoking materials during this dry period."

Source: GetSurrey

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