A landowner yesterday told a court of his shock – only four days after a mystery forest fire devastated part of his 8,000 acre estate – when he and his family spotted a second blaze on his ground.
Company director Steven Fox, 58, travelled north from England after getting word of the first fire on his Carnoch Estate near Strontian, Argyll.
He told Fort William Sheriff Court: “I could not believe what I saw. The hill was burned black.”
On trial denying starting three forest and hill fires wilfully, culpably or recklessly is long-serving part-time retained fire officer David MacKay, 40, a crew manager with Strontian village fire brigade, of 6 Dal Nan Each, Strontian.
In the prior day’s evidence the fireman’s ex-girlfriend told of seeing his white Scottish Water van travelling in nearby Glen Tarbert shortly before the start of one of the three fires, the first on March 27, 2013 and the two others on April 1.
Mr Fox described to fiscal Roderick Urquhart how he and his wife and other members of his family went on a walk in the hills on the estate on April 1 above Glen Tarbert.
Suddenly his wife exclaimed from their lofty viewpoint: “Oh, there is a white van parked at the cattlegrid.”
Added the laird: “We were a bit paranoid about white vans. There had been rumours about a white van.
“Then shortly after the van pulled away from the layby she shouted: ‘There’s a fire’.
“My brother-in-law said he thought it was just the exhaust fumes but I got binoculars and saw it was a fire. It had started just where the side of the van had been. There were yellow flames but we did not see any person.
“I phoned the local police station but was automatically put through to a police call centre somewhere. The person did not even know where Strontian was.
“I had hoped to get the local policeman to intercept the van. The person said he would notify the fire brigade.”
Mr Fox said it was two hours later before he and his family group got off the hill and went to the scene of the fire which destroyed 127 acres of trees.
He said he spoke to MacKay who was fighting the outbreak with his part-time firefighter colleagues.
He told him about seeing a white van at the source of the fire. MacKay replied that it would have been “one of his people” who had stopped to try and get the fire out but the fire “had got away from him”.
Said the estate owner: “I never saw anyone fighting the fire. I was surprised at what he said. The fire spread quickly although it was small to start with. I told MacKay we saw the fire being set.”
The trial before a jury and Sheriff Mungo Bovey continues today.