Grassland fire sparks fresh beach safety warning

The vast area of grassland that was left scorched after the fire was extinguished. Photograph: Machrihanish Online.
The vast area of grassland that was left scorched after the fire was extinguished. Photograph: Machrihanish Online.

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Campbeltown’s fire chief is urging beach-goers to ensure bonfires are fully extinguished before leaving them unattended.

Ronnie Souden, watch commander at Campbeltown Fire Station, issued the plea after a grassland fire broke out beside the beach between Westport and Machrihanish last weekend.

Fire fighters were called out at about 11.30pm on Saturday night and, after taking the fire engine as far as they could, they walked the rest of the way to the blaze.

Flames and thick smoke could be seen from far and wide.

Realising that the 500m-wide fire was close to Machrihanish Airbase Community Company Business Park and the houses at the Sound of Kintyre, Campbeltown’s second appliance was also called out.

The fire and thick smoke could be seen from miles around. Photograph: Kenny Craig.
The fire and thick smoke could be seen from miles around. Photograph: Kenny Craig.

With wind conditions initially blowing the fire closer to the former air base and homes, a third appliance was called from Tarbert, as well as the volunteer unit from Carradale.

Fortunately the wind changed direction and started blowing the flames back towards the shoreline which helped fire fighters extinguish the fire using beaters.

Before returning to the fire station at about 3am, fire fighters traced the blaze back to a bonfire at the edge of the shore, using debris from the beach as fuel, which had been left burning.

‘All it takes is a bit of wind to carry a spark onto the grass which is tinder-dry at the moment after the recent warm weather,’ Mr Souden warned. ‘This incident could have been a lot, lot worse if the fire had carried on towards the air base.

‘It was really careless of people to leave a fire burning, unattended, especially at the beach where it is easy to put out using sand.’

Watch Commander Ronnie Souden.
Watch Commander Ronnie Souden.

He added that as well as putting fire fighters at risk, avoidable incidents like this could have greater consequences if other emergency situations arise at the same time.

‘It’s risky with the crew working in the dark and, in some circumstances, we wouldn’t have put fire fighters onto that terrain,’ Mr Souden said, ‘but it was the right decision this time because they managed to get the fire out.

‘But if another serious incident happened, like a house fire or a road traffic collision, three fire engines were tied up at an incident caused by sheer carelessness.

‘If there had been a fire in Campbeltown, with the Tarbert appliance already on its way to us, the next appliance could be over an hour away.

‘It is quite concerning that people don’t realise just how quickly things can change, and the resources that get tied up at these incidents.

‘Anybody lighting a bonfire should make sure it is fully extinguished before leaving it unattended.’