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‘We need time to get out’: Residents fear for their lives if forest surrounding their property catches fire

Sandie Cherrie a wheelchair user and her husband David are scared they wont be able able to escape the flames.

David and Sandie Cherrie live very close to Achnabobane Forest which lies two miles south of Camisky Woods. Image: David Cherrie.
David and Sandie Cherrie live very close to Achnabobane Forest which lies two miles south of Camisky Woods. Image: David Cherrie.

Residents in the Highlands are “terrified” they may not be able to escape if a forest nearby catches fire due to strong winds blowing ash from ongoing wildfires.

Camisky Woods, north of Fort William, has been burning for days and lies just two miles north of Achnabobane Forest.

Woodland owner Alistair MacGregor is concerned his property containing hundreds of 40-foot Sitka spruce trees may catch fire.

He fears a strong south-westerly wind could whip up hot ash from Camisky Woods and deposit it onto his land, leaving residents nearby terrified.

Sandie Cherrie, who lives with her husband Dave in their bungalow, is surrounded on three sides by large trees planted by Mr MacGregor more than 40 years ago.

Seven properties are located in or near Achnabobane Forest north of Fort William. Image: David Cherrie.

Mrs Cherrie is a wheelchair user and is fearful at the prospect of having to evacuate from her home, which is just 25ft from the trees.

However, she is reluctant to leave due to the home being adapted to her wheelchair with ramps and low light switches.

She said: “I think the main problem is there’s been a fire burning for the last couple of nights, and when you look at it, it looks close to the property.

“If the wind was to catch and turn it just the slightest, it would come down towards our trees and set the whole forest alight.

“I don’t know how we would manage to get me out, people can run from their houses whereas I can’t.

“We need time to get out. I am not one of those people who can get up, pop their slippers on and walk out the door.

“It’s very terrifying especially now we can see the fires, they look so close.”

Efforts to control woodland being held up

There are seven properties in what Mr MacGregor says is the “danger zone”, a close enough distance to the forest which is extremely dangerous.

Previously, Mr MacGregor tried to obtain a felling license around nine months ago to level the forest in anticipation of winter storms.

All residents reportedly supported tree felling in the forest to prevent potential damage to their properties in the case of winter storms or summer wildfires.

Wildfires have left massive areas of the Highlands scorched due to the recent hot dry weather. Image: Balitore Fire Station.

Mrs Cherrie recalls being able to see the Nevis Range gondola when they first moved into their home 20 years ago, but this has now been blocked by massive trees.

Mr MacGregor says officials have been “dragging their heels” when it comes to granting the felling license, with several excuses given for its slow progress.

He says Scottish Forestry offered in January to only cut around the Cherries property to give them “peace of mind” but they are still waiting, with Mr MacGregor stating it didn’t help any of the other residents.

They previously granted a licence in 2008 with half the forest cut down, but the recent application has stalled.

Mr MacGregor last received an e-mail from officials 10 days ago, which indicated progress on obtaining the license.

‘We need time to get out’

He said: “These poor souls in the woods were terrified that trees will fall on their house and now the adjoining forest along the road has had helicopters day and night tackling a huge fire.

“If the wind was to turn to the west, and we are expecting lightning again, that forest would be up in flames.”

There is an estimated 30 acres of forest remaining, Mr MacGregor was keen to fell the forest even before wildfires came close to the forest.

The forest also overlooks the A82 Fort William to Spean Bridge road, so Mr MacGregor says felling the trees would reduce the risk of trees falling on the road or vehicles.

“The trees are within 40 feet of the road, and these trees could come down in a storm across the A82, where two people killed last year.

Large trees in the Achnabobane Forest sit right beside the A82 road. Image: Google Maps.

“I feel Scottish Forestry are not looking at the safety, they are looking at the little bits of paperwork to keep them in work.”

Mr MacGregor says it’s in the best interests of everyone to have the trees felled to prevent a dangerous incident from occurring.

He says if the license is granted it would take around three months to level the whole forest.

Mrs Cherries added: “All the neighbours had a meeting and have agreed that we want the trees down. They are far too high.

The forest around the properties are packed with massive Sitka spruce trees the same kind which are burning nearby at Camisky Woods. Image: David Cherrie.

“If [Scottish Forestry] can agree to get the felling started as soon as possible, it would all give us peace of mind.”

A Scottish Forestry spokesman said: “Part of Scottish Forestry’s role is to regulate felling permissions and forest design plans to promote sustainable forestry in Scotland.

“We have been working with the landowner and forestry agent at Achnabobane Forest to process this felling application which is complex in nature.

“This has involved publication on the public register and importantly proper consultation with communities and other stakeholders on the proposals.

“The consultation resulted in the need for a redesign of the forest design and we are currently considering this as part of the felling permission.

“We are continuing to work with the landowner’s forestry agent on this complex case and happy to discuss any issues.”