Suffolk: Fire warning after inferno tears through tinder dry heath

MARTLESHAM HEATH: Fire officers today warned residents to be alert after a massive blaze ripped through the heath for the third time in three days – leaving a trail of devastation in its wake and getting close to neighbouring houses.

Plumes of smoke could be seen for miles around and huge flames shot up to 40ft in the air as 12 fire crews – more than 60 firefighters – from across Suffolk battled the blaze.

The inferno was made worse by the tinder dry conditions and fanned by a strong breeze.

After several call-outs to the area on Thursday and a fire on Friday which required six crews to attend, the massive blaze really took hold on Saturday.

The fire service called on 12 pumps – three from Colchester Road in Ipswich, three from Princes Street, one from Woodbridge, two from Felixstowe, and one each from Orford, Holbrook and Hadleigh, along with the water bowser from Leiston and turntable ladder from Ipswich – to deal with the blaze.

The fire spread across a vast area of the heath, forcing police officers to close off nearby Dobbs Lane to prevent danger to passing traffic, but crews eventually managed to get the fire surrounded and had it under control by the evening.

Flames continued smouldering in some areas, leading to further call-outs yesterday to deal with remaining hotspots.

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Police have recorded the blaze as possible arson and have taken witness statements, but investigations are expected to continue.

Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service area manager Carl Francis warned residents to take extra care when out on the heath given the unusually dry conditions.

“There is always the potential that we have had some deliberate fire-setting,” he said,

“And we believe there is a malicious element to some of these fires, but we haven’t been able to identify specific individuals as yet.

“We are used to getting more calls of this type at this time of year, but we have had an extended period of dry weather which has just made these conditions even worse.

“Our advice is to be wary of the potential for fires during this particularly dry spell, and make sure no naked flames are used within the woodland area.

“Smokers should be very careful of the potential for fire starting from discarded smoking materials, and we would recommend that nobody considers using barbecues or open fires in woodland areas.”

He added that one of the biggest worries is that dealing with these types of fires can draw resources away from other incidents and put added pressure on already-stretched on-call firefighters.

The fire service is planning to deploy its Fire Bike team to work with young people in the vicinity, which has had some success in preventing arsons in the Rushmere Heath area.

n Firefighters from Princes Street put out a 30-metre strip of grass that was on fire in Commercial Road yesterday afternoon – they had the fire under control within minutes of their arrival. Meanwhile, crews were called to Brantham to put out a fire in 50 metres of conifers.

n Did you see the blaze or capture it on camera? Call the newsdesk on 01473 324790 or e-mail