Zoo workers praised for helping crews tackle farm wildfire

The devastating blaze left crops destroyed along with a tractor worth �60,000. Photograph by Stuart Birkbeck
The devastating blaze left crops destroyed along with a tractor worth �60,000. Photograph by Stuart Birkbeck

Staff at Drusillas Zoo Park and local farmers have been praised for their efforts in helping deal with a wildfire which broke out on farmland at Alfriston last week.

More than 1,500 people including children had to be evacuated from the attraction when the blaze broke out at Berwick Court Farm, between the Drusillas Roundabout and the village on Wednesday afternoon (July 25).

Neighbouring farmers rushed to help farmer Paul Lewis whose family has worked the farmland since the 1940s but despite the efforts of firefighters from across the county, crops worth £30,000 were destroyed along with a £60,000 tractor.

Mr Lewis has publicly thanked his neighbours and Drusillas has also praised its staff for their actions. All the animals were kept safe while visitors were evacuated within 25 minutes.

Cassie Poland said: “I would also like to recognise how amazing the staff at Drusillas were. Everyone sprang into action and made sure all of our visitors were escorted to safety.

“Many of our staff were downright heroic, jumping into action and helping firefighters to tackle the blaze.

“Our staff formed a chain and were passing water buckets, fire extinguishers and hoses back and forth to firefighters to help them conquer the fire.

“We even had staff running up and down with wheelbarrows full of water bottles to keep the firemen hydrated.”

“We also had staff bravely directing traffic on the A27, ensuring cars stopped to allow visitors to quickly and safely get away from the area. The actions of our staff were completely selfless, heroic and very brave.

“It was frightening, especially with the roar of flames and the ash falling from the sky, but they all remained calm and truly went above and beyond the call of duty.”

The fire service says it is unlikely the cause of the blaze will be known but it is believed to be due to the excessive temperatures.