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Balmacara Estate wildfire could leave National Trust for Scotland with huge bill

A charity is facing a bill of at least £20,000 following a devastating wildfire in the Highlands.

Firefighters battled for more than 24 hours to extinguish a major wildfire at Balmacara Estate, in the Kyle of Lochalsh area.

Around 11 fire crews attended the incident alongside a helicopter from Skyhook Helicopters who successfully water-bombed the vast area.

Around two miles of land has been been reduced to ash.

The National Trust for Scotland, which maintains the site, is now investigating the full scale of the damage as they look to replace what has been lost.

A large wildfire has affected several thousand acres of trees, moor and common grazings on the Balmacara Estate owned by the National Trust for Scotland between Balmacara and Kyle of Lochalsh. Picture by Sandy McCook/DCT Media.

Will Boyd-Wallis, operations manager for the north-west, admitted the financial implications will have a major impact on the charity, which already struggled through the pandemic.

He estimates the firefighting effort will have cost in the region of £20,000, with a helicopter drafted in to waterbomb the site.

‘Livelihoods are at risk’

He said: “One of the biggest issues is the cost. When something like this happens, you have to call a helicopter out. We could not have got it out without a helicopter.

“That is going to cost a lot of money. We haven’t got the bill yet but we know that it will be huge, it could be well into £20,000 or something like that.

“For a charity that is trying to raise money all the time in order to pay staff and what have you, that’s quite a big chunk of our money.

“You have got no choice. You have to just do it, bite the bullet and get on with it because obviously there are people’s houses, people’s livelihoods and crofters’ grazings are at risk and of course really important habitats are at risk as well.”

Crews were first called to the area in Kyle on Wednesday after a fire broke out on a large patch of heather.

Fire crews were assisted by trust staff and a water-bombing helicopter to bring the blaze under control.

The fire was finally out by Thursday night without any loss or injury to people or livestock.

Around 11 crews and a helicopter were drafted in to help extinguish the wildfire. Picture by Sandy McCook/DCT Media.

‘Terrifying wall of red flames’

Mr Boyd-Wallis added: “Its really grim to see the extent of it. It’s also extremely heartening to see today that the fire is out and that its not spreading any further.

“It was terrifying, especially when you see it at night and its this wall of red flame coming towards you.

“I think it was very alarming but the fire crews and the helicopter crew were incredibly professional and just calmly went about their job and got on with it.

“The helicopter crew were extremely good at targeting with the water and putting it out from what I hear.”

Iain Turnbull, NTS property manager of the Balmacara Estate, is now urging people to take care when exploring outdoors to help prevent further fire damage across the country.

He said: “While the cause of the wildfire is still uncertain, it is a salutary reminder that all of us must take the utmost care in the countryside during dry spells.

“Our next step is to make a full assessment of the affected area and decide on what happens next to help recovery.”

Helicopter dousing the wildfire at Kyle of Lochalsh. Supplied by Spean Bridge CRU

‘Hugely grateful’ to fire crews

NTS bosses thanked all firefighters, volunteers and staff who came to their aid.

Mr Boyd-Wallis added: “On behalf of the National Trust for Scotland, I would l like to express our huge gratitude to the fire crews.

“These are all guys who have other jobs and they have been taken away from those jobs so we’re hugely grateful.

“Locally as well, lots of people were helping out with making sandwiches, teas and that sort of thing so it was a really really great effort locally to support the control of this thing.

“A massive thank you to everyone involved, including the helicopter pilots from Skyehook Helicopters who were just tremendous.”

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