A shortage of retained firefighters in rural areas has been exposed after crews took more than an hour to reach a burning house in the west Highlands.
Appliances at two stations were unavailable to respond to the incident at the remote property on the Ardnamurchan peninsula in Lochaber due to a lack of cover.
By the time the nearest crews arrived through blizzard conditions, the fire at the one-and-a-half-storey home was well alight.
The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is now renewing its efforts to recruit more volunteer firefighters from within the local community.
Mary Khan’s home at Balnaha House in the remote crofting hamlet of Kilmory, near Kilchoan, Lochaber, was destroyed in the blaze.
Ms Khan, who is one of the directors of Kilchoan Community Centre and a former chairwoman of Ardnamurchan Lighthouse Trust, was not at home at the time of the fire and no one was hurt in the incident.
The 77-year-old did not wish to comment when contacted yesterday.
However, one local man who did not want to be named, said: “The Kilchoan and Acharacle fire stations were off duty as there weren’t enough firefighters available and it took Strontian an hour to reach the scene, by which time the house had been gutted.”
A woman, who also wished to remain anonymous, said: “I was very sorry to hear about the fire.
“It must be devastating for her, particularly at this time of the year.
“I’m just pleased that she and her pets are okay.”
The fire was reported at 12.06pm on Thursday.
Strontian and Lochaline crews responded, with the Strontian crew arriving at 1.17pm.
They called for further assistance and appliances from Fort William and Mallaig were dispatched.
Fire service group manager, Phil Green, said: “The weather was atrocious.
“Snow and ice presented significant risk to responding crews who had to drive through blizzard conditions, accompanied by thunder and lightning.
“This meant crews were forced to drive according to the poor conditions and undoubtedly slowed down their arrival time.
“When the first crews arrived, the fire in the roof had spread throughout the property due to high winds.
“Crews worked in difficult weather conditions and managed to extinguish the fire.”
Mr Green confirmed that appliances at Kilchoan and Acharacle were unavailable due to a shortage of retained firefighters.
He said: “This highlights how crucial it is that our communities support Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and sign up to become retained firefighters.
“Group manager Pat McElhinney and watch manager from Kilchoan, Rosemary Curtis, attended a recent Kilchoan Community Council meeting to appeal to the community to support the service and help provide daytime retained cover in the area.”
It is understood some volunteers from Kilchoan were undergoing medicals at the time of the Lochaber call-out.
Councillor Andrew Baxter, Fort William and Ardnamurchan, said: “I understand the problems the fire service has recruiting retained firefighters right across the Highlands and particularly in rural areas.
“I don’t think we can blame the fire service for that as it is doing all it can to recruit additional people, but it is unfortunate if it was an underlying cause in the problems with getting to this particular fire in time.”
The cause of the fire is being investigated.