Fair Isle fire family 'humbled' by kindness

Media caption,
Fair Isle fire couple 'never thought of leaving'

The family who ran the Fair Isle Bird Observatory have said they are "humbled" by messages of support from around the world.

The world-famous site was destroyed by fire on Sunday.

David and Susannah Parnaby lost most of their possessions in the blaze which destroyed the two-storey wooden lodge and their adjoining flat.

Mrs Parnaby told BBC Scotland she was "incredibly grateful" for the support shown to her family.

Image caption,
The internationally famous observatory was completely destroyed

An online appeal for financial help for the couple and their two young daughters, which was set up by friends, attracted more than £20,000 in the first 48 hours.

Mrs Parnaby said that watching the news could make you think the worst of people but the "reality of life" was much different.

"Most people are lovely, kind, caring and supportive," she said.

"If there is something good comes out of this, it is that."

Image caption,
The fire broke out in the wooden building on Sunday

Fair Isle is a remote island half way between Orkney and Shetland, which is three miles long, one and a half miles wide and has a population of just 55.

It is famed for its knitwear, its place in the shipping forecast and migratory birds.

It is one of the best places in Europe to see rare birds that stop off for a rest and feed along their migration routes in spring and summer.

Image caption,
Fair Isle is one of the UK's most remote islands

The first bird observatory was established in 1948 and the current building was constructed in 2010 at a reported cost of £4m.

It offers accommodation to about 30 visitors at a time.

The observatory is run by an independent charity but has close links to other organisations such as the National Trust for Scotland which owns the remainder of the island.

Image caption,
Susannah and David Parnaby said they will stay on the island

Fire took hold of the wooden building on Sunday afternoon and burnt on through the night.

Neither the volunteer firefighters from the island nor fire crews that were flown and shipped in from mainland Shetland were able to contain it.

The entire observatory was burnt to the ground but the Parnabys were able to grab some treasured possessions such as family photos before the blaze reached their flat.

"We got the chance to get a few bits out and we are very grateful for that," said Mrs Parnaby.

She said it was lucky there was no-one staying in the lodges at the time because it was the winter season.

"We are really busy during the summer," she said.

"We are very grateful we did not have to go through the worry of evacuating everybody and wondering what you would do with people who were there.

"It was such a relief the following morning to find out that everyone was safe."

Mrs Parnaby said the island had pulled together to help the family.

"We live in a very close community and everyone is helping," she said.

"We have had some parcels in from Shetland with toys for the kids and things like that and you can't help but feel surrounded by care and support."

Her husband said the family will remain on the island.

"There was never a thought of not staying," he said.

He said he hopes the observatory, which was insured, can be rebuilt.

"It's going to be a big rebuilding but it can be done," he said.

Mr Parnaby added: "We want to make sure everyone knows how thankful we are."

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