Blaze destroys Suffolk heathland

MORE than five hectares of heathland have been destroyed by a fire in Ipswich which sent clouds of smoke high into the air over the town this afternoon.

YEARS of wildlife conservation work were ruined by fire as five hectares of heathland burnt to a cinder in Ipswich.

The loss of natural habitat destroyed by flames in Orwell Country Park yesterday afternoon was hard to calculate but the scale of the fire suggested that breeding ground for scores of species had been devastated.

Clouds of smoke were visible from as far away as Ipswich town centre as the blaze tore through an area of Ravenswood Meadow.

Seven fire engines and dozens of firefighters battled the flames, which engulfed much of an eleven-hectare area of land at the former Ipswich airport site between Ravenswood Avenue and Priory Lane.

Fire chiefs said the blaze broke out shortly after 3pm and quickly spread across the well populated wildlife habitat.

Ipswich Borough Council Park rangers Richard Sharp and Joe Underwood looked on helplessly, at what they described as the worst fire of its type they had seen, as years of work managing the migration of reptiles, birds, animals and plant life went up in flames.

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Mr Sharp and his team had been responsible for the relocation of more than 600 common lizards to the area of heathland destroyed by the fire.

He said: “We've lost all the scrub used as breeding ground for nightingales and which held the largest population of skylarks in Ipswich. When they return to the site next year, their habitat will have gone.”

Mr Underwood added: “It's hard to put a figure on how much time and money has been invested here in the last eight years.”

Despite initial fears of a threat to nearby properties, no homes were affected by the fire and there were no evacuations.

Firefighters were forced to drag hose reels some distance in order to position themselves in front of the fire and avoid chasing its advance.

Ian Bowell, group manager of the Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service, said: “When the first crews got there they realised it was a serious fire.

“There were quite a few people watching the fire spread and they were in its path. We needed to get them out of the way to make sure they were safe.

“The fire was creating a large column of smoke which the wind was blowing towards the A14. This always causes potential problems so we were concerned about that. The wind was also taking the flames towards another large area of grass.”