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Last Updated: Friday, 18 April, 2003, 17:23 GMT 18:23 UK
Fires blaze in dry countryside
helicopter tackles forest fire
Extra helicopters were drafted in to help fight fires
Forest fires have gripped the UK countryside threatening homes, flora and wildlife as most people enjoyed the hot, dry Bank Holiday weather.

Dramatic wind changes could force firefighters in Ayrshire, Scotland, to evacuate homes as a rapidly-spreading fire, which started on Thursday and covers 12 square miles, continues to burn near Darvel.

In south Wales, dozens of houses and a children's home in Gwent were evacuated overnight as firefighters battled a blaze.

On Thursday, five people had to be rescued by helicopter after they became trapped in a forest and heath fire in Dorset.

The outbreak of forest and moorland fires prompted calls for greater care by people enjoying the Bank Holiday heat wave.

Firefighters in Ayrshire, who have been working round the clock, have been joined by crews from neighbouring Lothian and Borders and Dumfries and Galloway.

A third helicopter is being brought in from Devon to drop water on the fire.

Fast fire

Strathclyde Fire Brigade's assistant firemaster, Phil Robinson said: "It is a very difficult type of fire to fight because of the weather conditions, the dryness and the vegetation.

"The weather is so hot and everything is so dry it could have been started by a cigarette end or anything.

It can advance faster than we can run
Phil Robinson
Strathclyde Fire Brigade
"Being one of the largest brigades in Europe we are able to cope with this but it really is stretching our resources."

Mr Robinson said the blaze was not endangering homes at the moment, but given the wind direction and speed of the fire, that was a potential threat.

"If any homes are likely to be involved, they will be evacuated long before there is any danger to life," he said.

Farmers using quad bikes were out in the moorlands trying to rescue sheep.

Evacuation

A large blanket of smoke hovered over the nearby village of Darvel, in stark contrast to the surrounding clear blue skies.

Firefighters in South Wales battled a blaze which led to the evacuation of dozens of residents in Gwent, including some at a children's home.

Forest fires in  Dorset
Even a small piece of glass if hit by the sun in the right way can cause a fire
Willie Cairns
Forestry Commission
Hundreds of mature trees and a large area of bracken, gorse and shrubs were destroyed as the fire ripped through a two-mile stretch between Cwmfelinfach and the A467 at Wattsville.

A South Wales Fire Brigade spokesman said police and fire officers had launched a joint investigation into the blaze, which was believed to have been started deliberately.

More than 100 firefighters remain at the scene along with police and ambulance crews, local authority officers and Forestry Commission staff.

Firefighters in Cornwall spent Friday afternoon tackling a large gorse fire at St Newlyn East near Newquay.

At the height of the fire, the flames covered almost a mile of land.

In Dorset, a family of two adults and two children together with a woman and her dog were rescued by helicopter after they became trapped during a major forest and heath fire on the edge of Verwood Forest.

On Thursday, more than 120 firefighters were involved in tackling a major blaze at West End Common, Woking, Surrey.

Willie Cairns, of the Forestry Commission, urged people to be more careful.

He said: "Go out and enjoy yourselves but take care of things that can be set alight - it is no more than common sense.

"Extinguish matches properly, be careful with barbecues and take rubbish home with you because even a small piece of glass if hit by the sun in the right way can cause a fire."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Wyre Davies
"Police are now looking for those who deliberately started fires"



SEE ALSO:
Homes cleared as fire spreads
18 Apr 03  |  Wales
Investigation into moorland fire
31 Mar 03  |  England


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