A helicopter was drafted in to extinguish a massive wildfire at a Moray quarry last night – more than 24 hours after it first broke out.
Police have confirmed they are treating the blaze at Clashach Quarry, on the outskirts of Hopeman, as deliberate.
Firefighters were first called to the scene at about 3.30pm on Thursday, and remained there throughout yesterday – at one point calling for extra crews to assist in the dampening down efforts.
And in the evening, a helicopter was scrambled to “waterbomb” the area.
Huge sprays of water were doused over the charred gorse and shrubbery.
In the meantime, members of the public are being urged to stay away.
Sergeant Scott Brander, who confirmed officers are treating the fire as suspicious, said: “Patrols will be carried out in the area over the weekend but we are urging people to avoid the area.
“There are a number of coastal paths in the area which include the area East of Hopeman Golf Course, inclusive of Cove Bay, Jock Muldoon’s Cave, Codeen Beach and Pinochet Bay and we would urge the public to avoid these over the weekend.
“Inquiries are ongoing and police are following a positive line of inquiry.”
Last night, Moray Council convener James Allan praised the “Blitz spirit” of Hopeman.
He said: “The community has really rallied round and come out in force to help the emergency services. We had lots of people offering to bring out food parcels for the people working at the blaze.”
Nearby Hopeman Golf Club was partly closed yesterday, as four of its holes were burnt.
Club manager Trevor Mearns said he hoped they would be able to reopen today, and added: “We are helping the police with their investigations.”
At the height of the fire, seven crews from Elgin, Forres, Aberlour and Nairn and a welfare unit from Huntly were in attendance.
Huge plumes of smoke filled the sky, and could be seen as far away as Nairn and Buckie.
The fire is the third in as many weeks in the community, with 30 firefighters battling for 17 hours to bring another under control on May 9. Two weeks ago, another broke out – with winds hampering efforts to extinguish it.
Scottish Fire and Rescue Service area manager Bruce Farquharson, who is also chairman of the Scottish Wildlife Forum, urged people to take care outdoors.
He said: “Many rural and remote communities are hugely impacted by wildfires, which can cause significant environmental and economic damage.
“Livestock, farmland, wildlife, protected woodland and sites of special scientific interest can all be devastated by these fires – as can the lives of people living and working in rural communities.”
He urged people to take care when using barbecues or setting campfires, as in the hot weather it can increase the chances of a wild or grass fire.
Mr Farquharson added: “They then have the potential to burn for days and devastate vast areas of land, wildlife and threaten the welfare of nearby communities.
“Human behaviour can significantly lower the chance of a wildfire starting so it’s crucial people act safely and responsibly in rural environments and follow the countryside code.”
Anyone with information about the fire should call 101.
Video provided by Cheryl Williamson.