FIREFIGHTERS tackled a potential disaster last night as a blaze took hold on Chobham Common.
Five acres of land was destroyed in the fire, which a local birdwatcher spotted breaking out on the south of the heathland, off Staple Hill, at around 9.30pm.
He immediately rang the emergency services.
Moments before, he had noticed a group of youths at the scene, which alerted his suspicions.
Police are not ruling out the possibility of arson.
Fortunately, thanks to the resident’s eagle eye, quick reactions and the timely response of Chobham fire crews, the blaze was contained and eventually extinguished.
Crews were still damping down the area late into Tuesday morning.
Wildfire can travel at great speed, especially in scorching temperatures, and in the past fires, such as the one which stretched 25 acres to Wentworth Golf Club in 2012, have ripped across the dried out gorse and arid common for miles, create carnage its path and destroying all types of wildlife on the nature reserve.
Wildfire Officer for Surrey Fire and Rescue Service, Alan Grant, who was supervising the damping down operation said: “Fire services were called at 9.40pm on Monday night and the first crew, from Chobham Fire Station, under Watch manager Jason Patrick, were at the scene before 10pm and called for support.
“Three appliances and five specialist wildfire vehicles battled the blaze at the height of the action between 10pm and 1am on Tuesday.
“Thanks to lessons learned from previous heathland fires and specialist equipment, including Unimog all-terrain vehicles, the blaze was contained to a relatively small area and there was no impact from smoke on traffic using the nearby M3.”
Station manager Grant praised the efforts of the fire crews from several of the surrounding stations, including Chobham, Woking, Guildford and Camberley in controlling the fire.
He added: “The cause of the blaze is not yet known, but there were reports of a group of youths acting suspiciously in the area and it looks as if the fire was started deliberately. The police are investigating.”
Stephen Fry of Surrey Wildlife Trust who manage the heathland, said that he was called on Monday night by a bird watcher who asked if he had any knowledge of permission to hold a barbeque on the common.
He said the same person then called the fire brigade as the blaze became apparent.
Mr Fry added that it was very fortunate a Chobham Fire Station crew were available because of their specialist knowledge as well as their proximity.
A ‘Wildfire Awareness Day’ organised by Surrey Fire and Rescue Service will be taking place on Sunday (July 21) at Frensham Great Pond between 10am and 4pm. Appliances and equipment will be on display and officers will be present to explain to the public how wildfires start and how they are controlled.