RESIDENTS fled their homes yesterday as a huge wildfire raged within a few feet of them.
Some were evacuated and others were ordered to stay inside and shut their doors and windows to protect themselves from thick, choking smoke.
More than 40 firefighters battled the blaze on the outskirts of Inverness.
At the height of the inferno, flames leaped 40ft into the air and a massive plume of smoke could be seen from across Inverness, the Black Isle and beyond.
As the flames intensified, the emergency services locked down the area amid fears that the fire could spread quickly.
Police cordoned off the scene to stop residents using a popular track into Bogbain Woods to get a close-up view of the blaze. At one point, firefighters retreated from a command point in the trees because they were worried the flames could engulf them.
Residents in the area were seen removing flammable material from their garages and homes, while many others gathered to watch as fire crews tried to bring the blaze under control.
Fire units from Inverness, Beauly, Nairn and Dingwall went to the scene, in the south Inverness suburb of Milton of Leys.
Redwood Avenue resident Grant Mackay reported the blaze to the emergency services at 2.30pm – and then set off on his regular run through the woods.
He said: “I could see it from the upstairs window.
“It’s where I normally go for a run along General Wade’s road but I went the other way instead.
“By the time I’d done a loop half an hour later, it had got much worse.
“I couldn’t really believe how quickly it had spread. It was a bit too close for comfort.”
The area of gorse, heather and woodland has been hit by wildfires in the past.
The woods are also at the centre of a plan to build up to 75 homes, a bid opposed by many nearby residents.
Redwood Avenue resident George Moodie was away from home when the fire started.
He said: “I came back up as quickly as I could because the dogs were still in the house. The police tried to stop me getting up but I managed to get through.
“It’s very sad because it’s a great space for recreational use. There’s plans to build houses on it and we’ve been fighting to stop that and save the woods. It’s a real shame to see it all go up like that.”
The fire brigade’s Inverness station manager, Ross Nixon, said the blaze had been a “significant challenge” for crews.
“We made inroads and got the fire back from the houses, which was the main worry at one point,” he said.
“We’re not going to get complacent and we’ll have people monitoring it.
“We don’t want people coming to the area because it’s still quite unstable and there is the potential for smoke to travel and flames to pick up again.”
He said the crews had faced a “significant challenge” because the fire front was 500-600 metres (546-656 yards) wide.
The fire service said last night the blaze had been brought under control.
A police spokesman said last night: “All residents who left their properties earlier this afternoon can now return home and there is no longer a request for local residents to stay indoors.
“There are still minor restrictions in place on some roads in the Castleton and Milton of Leys areas while Scottish Fire and Rescue Service fully extinguish the fire.”
Group manager Robert Scott said: “This incident highlights the danger wildfires pose at the present time. We urge anyone who is enjoying the outdoors this weekend to recognise the risks and help prevent wildfires.”