Gorse fire near Jurston

I was just thinking yesterday that I was surprised that Dartmoor hadn’t seen a wildfire in this recent period of tinder dry weather and then last night ……..

So today I decided to go and have a look at the site. Compared to the February fire which I wrote about here this was a gorse fire and was much smaller. It would appear that the fire service were able to access the area as it is by a road and were able to contain it. Good work. I would estimate that this fire covered an area of around 4-5 hectares.

You can clearly see the blackened remains of gorse bushes and purple moor grass – referred to on Dartmoor, after its Latin name, as Molinia. This photograph is looking south towards Hameldown.

The conditions have been very dry in recent weeks and there was a reasonably cold winter from the north last night. Such a combination dries out the vegetation and makes it very vulnerable to combustion.

This is what the vegetation looks like immediately adjacent to the fire site, a mix of European Gorse and Western Gorse, interspersed this the dry lanky white leaves of Molinia. This area also contained quite a lot of heather bushes (Calluna vulgaris). The hill-farmers on Dartmoor describe vegetation like this as a huge ‘fuel load’.

A fire like this occurring in late April is unfortunate as many birds will have started to breed and many less mobile animals such as amphibians and reptiles are not quick enough to escape, I did find a dead frog but nothing else. Dartmoor was lucky last night, this fire could have been much more extensive had it been in an inaccessible location like the last one near Tavy Cleave.

An unfortunate incident but not a disaster in my view, given the rain today, I suspect fresh growth in the fire site will quickly emerge as many of the plants found here are fire resistant. It is also early in the breeding season so perhaps some species can try again.

The cause of this fire remains a mystery, I have seen some speculation that it might have been a portable BBQ as the tell tale scorch marks were found nearby on some short grass, maybe, but it was pretty chilly last night in Exeter, and it would have been even chillier at Jurston Cross – not ideal weather for a BBQ in my opinion!

With the rest of spring and summer ahead of us, more ‘wildfires’ on Dartmoor are a real concern so it is good to see that the DNPA are clearly warning the public of the risks and pointing out that open fires and BBQs on Dartmoor are prohibited ………..

Photo by Charlie Elder

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