Villagers and tourists armed themselves with buckets and bins as they teamed up and hopped on boats to tackle a wildfire.
Smoke was spotted billowing from Shieldaig Island on Saturday afternoon by people in Shieldaig, Wester Ross.
With no firefighters in sight, a call to arms was raised outside the local pub and shop.
It didn’t take long before dozens of people were climbing aboard boats and heading over to the island – armed with buckets, bins and whatever else they could get their hands on.
Andrew Burnett, 46, was visiting the area with his partner Jen Ang.
They were sitting outside the Shieldaig Bar and Coastal Kitchen when they heard a commotion.
‘There’s a fire on Shieldaig Island and we need bodies’
Within half an hour they were part of a “human chain” on the island, passing buckets of water from the sea up a hill so the smoke and flames could be doused.
Mr Burnett said: “A woman came running out of the pub carrying buckets and just shouted ‘Who wants to be a hero?’ There’s a fire on the island and we need bodies’.
“The next thing I know we’re on a boat going extremely fast – in normal circumstances, you’d pay good money for that kind of trip.”
The band of good Samaritans began their mission passing water up the island before they were eventually joined by a fire crew from Kyle of Lochalsh, who co-ordinated their efforts.
After nearly two hours of toil on one of the hottest days of the year, news was finally passed down towards the shore that the fire was out.
Mr Burnett, who lives in Edinburgh but is originally from Aberdeenshire, added: “There was a cheer that went up and I’m still getting goose bumps just thinking about it.
“It was a great relief and being part of that effort was really humbling.”
‘We didn’t know what to expect’
No one lives on Shieldaig Island but it is home to two breeding pairs of sea eagles.
They are a globally endangered species with fewer than 10,000 pairs left in the world.
Jon Ohlson, 29, is the bar and restaurant manager of the Shieldaig Bar and Coastal Kitchen.
He only moved to the area six weeks ago and was just finishing his shift when he heard about the fire.
Mr Ohlson said: “We just grabbed all the empty mayonnaise tubs and emptied our bins. Anything we had that could take water.
“From where we were, we could see the original smoke and it looked quite severe, almost blocking the whole island.
“When we got there we didn’t know what to expect.”
Once things were under control, many of the group – estimated by those in attendance as between 50 and 70 people – headed back to the pub to celebrate.
Mr Ohlson added: “One of the locals treated everyone to a pint and most of them stayed all night drinking.
“It was people from the community, it was people there on holiday, everyone just pulled together.
“I don’t think there will be any buckets left in Shieldaig.”
‘He only popped out for some bread’
Jan Nicol Thomas runs a business renting the Badan Mhugaidh cottages between Torridon and Shieldaig.
Her husband Nigel popped out for supplies and ended up playing a key role in tackling the fire.
She said: “He only popped out for some bread! He was going to go to Torridon but we’d seen the smoke so he thought he’d better go to Shieldaig instead and investigate.
Shieldaig Island from above: pic.twitter.com/ttOB3q45kn
— Steve Carter (@HighlandRampage) July 25, 2021
“By the time he got there, people were saying they needed volunteers so off he went.
“He just got on with it.
“They reckon people carried between 5,000 and 10,000 litres up that hill.”
Fire crew’s return to Shieldaig Island
A very high risk wildfire warning was issued for the Highlands last week.
A spokesman for the fire service said they were alerted at 1.53pm on Saturday.
One crew from Kyle of Lochalsh, around an hour’s drive from Shieldaig, was sent to the incident.
They left the scene for the final time at 9.29pm.
The spokeswoman added: “It was a heather and moss fire. The crew used two knapsacks, sprayers and a thermal image camera.
“Because sea eagles nest on the island, we attended again later that night for a re-inspection.
“This was to confirm everything was safe for them.”