Wareham Forest blaze 'started by disposable barbecue or camp-fire'

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Image copyright Sophie Lake
Image caption The fire has damaged 470 acres (190 hectares) of Wareham Forest

A "vast" fire which devastated a large area of forest is likely to have been started by a disposable barbecue or a camp-fire, investigators have said.

Flames began ripping through Wareham Forest in Dorset on Monday, damaging 470 acres (190 hectares) of land.

The blaze has been brought under control but firefighters are continuing to deal with localised burning.

Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service said it had found the remains of 11 disposable barbecues in the area.

Glass bottles and the remains of camp-fires were also discovered.

In a statement, the fire service said: "We now believe the cause of this fire to be accidental, due to social activity in the forest."

Incident commander Seth Why said: "The general public has no right of access to that area. People shouldn't be using disposable BBQs out in the countryside."

Image copyright DWFRS
Image caption The flames spread quickly through the forest on Monday

About 50 firefighters remain on site and smoke is still rising from hot spots over a "vast area", the service said.

It added that an amber warning for wildfire had been issued because of the weather forecast.

"This means that, should we experience another wildfire, it could spread quickly and easily due to the dry and windy conditions," it said.

Image copyright Dorset & Wiltshire Fire Service
Image caption The fire service said 11 disposable BBQs were found in the area

One third of the 3,700-acre forest is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is home to rare birds, plants and invertebrates.

On Wednesday, Forestry England estimated it could take the forest "decades" to recover.

Dorset Police said it would continue to investigate the cause but was not treating the fire as malicious.

A disposable BBQ is believed to have caused a previous fire which burned for more than four hours in Puddletown Forest , Dorset, in April.

Image copyright DWFRS
Image caption Smoke from the fire drifted as far as Bournemouth during its peak on Monday