COUNTY NEWS: Fire crews battle raging forest fire

Dozens of firefighters from East and West Sussex were called to tackle a ‘fierce’ forest fire outside Uckfield yesterday (June 6).

Flames rose to '30ft', witnesses have said    PHOTO: Eddie Howland SUS-150706-115158001
Flames rose to '30ft', witnesses have said PHOTO: Eddie Howland SUS-150706-115158001

The blaze sparked shortly after 1.30pm in Ashdown Forest and affected some five hectares (12.3 acres) of land, East Sussex Fire and Rescue said.

About 40 firefighters were called to tackle the flames, which had engulfed a sizeable portion of the forest, leaving vast swathes of it scorched.

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Crews from Uckfield, Crowborough, Wadhurst and Heathfield, supported by six fire service Land Rover teams and forest rangers, took about four hours to get the inferno under control.

About 40 firefighters from across East and West Sussex were called to tackle the inferno PHOTO: Eddie Howland SUS-150706-115147001

Speaking of the scene yesterday, forest ranger Michael Payne, said: “It was quite furious and very windy up there.

“The flames were up to 30ft tall in places. It was all burning through dense gorse which made tackling the fire very difficult.”

The fire service said the incident had been accidental.

Mr Payne added that it was caused by a man who had been using a gas burner to cook his lunch.

The fire is believed to have been sparked accidentally PHOTO: Eddie Howland SUS-150706-115131001

Today, the forest ranger has given a stern warning to other forest users urging them to never to cook their food at the beauty spot.

“Don’t use any sort of naked flame out in the forest,” he warned. “Not only could you be prosecuted for breaking by-laws but you could cause significant damage to the forest.

“Only two weeks ago we had ponies in the enclosure which caught alight. If they had still been there it could have been even worse.

“Local properties were also threatened by the fire.”

Firefighters fought for about four hours ot control the blaze PHOTO: Eddie Howland SUS-150706-115120001

In spite of his warning though, Mr Payne said people had still been lighting bonfires in the forest just hours after the devastating blaze, discovering a fresh one earlier this morning.

“I just can’t believe it. It’s so reckless. I can’t believe anyone would light a bonfire after yesterday’s fire,” he said.

Mr Payne is this afternoon surveying the site using a GPS system to find out the exact scale of the damage caused.

Vast swathes of land were scorched black following the fire PHOTO: Eddie Howland SUS-150706-115109001