A WILDFIRE which had been raging through the Galloway Forest Park since lunchtime last Thursday (April 23) was finally contained on Sunday morning.

Thousands of acres of grassland near Mossdale have been burnt, reportedly killing local wildlife but luckily missing nearby grazing livestock.

The fire, which is thought to have started close to the old railway near Loch Skerrow, ventured into nearby forestry and flames and smoke were seen from miles around the blaze. How the fire started is still unknown, but investigations are ongoing.

Local gamekeeper Dru Ross was one of the first at the scene: "On Thursday lunchtime I noticed a batch of smoke coming off the hill and thought it had to belong to some of the forestry machines which were extracting wood, but when we got up to the hill it turned out to be a grass fire," he told The SF. "Within hours it was a massive fire and soon became out of control – at one point the face of the fire was 4km wide.

"There were 10 to 12 fire engines and two helicopters in attendance at one point. I spent my time ferrying fire chiefs across the hill and they were saying it was a category three fire. It took three days for them to contain it and on Sunday they were still dousing hot spots."

The Airds Estate where Mr Ross works has sustained over 1800 acres of damage and although no livestock were killed, the fire had devastating consequences for local wildlife.

"We have found wasted grouse eggs, dead adders, newts, the list goes on," he continued. "There will have been black grouse on that hill too – only last week we spotted a few pairs," Mr Ross said.

Senior harvesting manager for Scottish Woodlands in the south west of Scotland, Bill Tyre, said that the helicopters played a crucial part in stopping the fire from engulfing surrounding trees.

“A lot of woodlands are insured for fire, so I was authorised to make the call on Thursday at around 5.30pm for a helicopter to join the effort and it arrived within the hour,” he told the SF. “The Forestry Commission brought in another helicopter on the Friday and between the two, were working flat out until around 3pm on Sunday and made huge headway in tackling the flames."

The Scottish Woodlands team played an important role in ferrying the fire crew’s pumps up and down the hill via their forwarder – to ensure a constant supply of water to douse the fire. They had been harvesting timber about half a mile from where the fire started but luckily only suffered a few burnt branches and scorched trees, sustaining around 20 tonnes of damage.

“We were so lucky the crews managed to contain the fire or we could have lost 70-80 hectares of mature timber," Mr Tyre stressed.

Head of the Hill and Mountain Research at SRUC, Davy McCracken, explained that the combination of drier but windy weather in early spring and lots of dead vegetation in grasslands and moorlands has created a huge wildfire risk.

"This not only poses a grave danger to farmers, crofters and those accessing the countryside for recreation, but can also be devastating for wildlife in those environments. Birds have wings and can potentially fly out of path of danger - but any eggs or young chicks in nests on the ground or in bushes and shrubs cannot."

He pointed out that wildfires release a lot of carbon stored in vegetation and that by drying out the underlying soil, it can make it difficult for vegetation to recover, or for soils to act as a carbon sink again.