NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Fire destroys Shetland's Fair Isle Bird Observatory

The blaze at the Fair Isle Bird Observatory

A fire has destroyed an internationally-renowned bird observatory on Fair Isle in Shetland.

Firefighters were called to the Fair Isle Bird Observatory, which is located on the north east of the island, at about 11:20 on Sunday.

Extra fire crews were flown in from Sumburgh by helicopter with others arriving on the island by boat.

Observatory president Roy Dennis said the building had been "lost to fire", adding it was "absolutely tragic news".

A family including two children who live in the flat adjoining the lodge were unhurt. There are no guests staying at the lodge for the winter season.

'Colossal blow'

Mr Dennis said: "Thank goodness no loss of life but heartfelt sympathy to David, Susannah and family and the islanders. We will rebuild. We have lost much and will lose a year. Close to my heart - very very sad."

And Shetland MSP Tavish Scott described it as a "colossal blow to the isle".

Image copyright Rob Fray
Image caption The smoke from the blaze could be seen for miles
Image copyright Fair Isle bird observatory
Image caption Fair Isle Bird Observatory (pictured in the background) recorded migration patterns

One local told BBC Scotland a Fair Isle boat crew spotted smoke while out on the water just after leaving the harbour, and turned back to raise the alarm.

The fire is understood to have started in the roof.

Photographer Rob Fray could see a plume of smoke from the blaze from the Sumburgh Hotel in Shetland - approximately 30 miles across the water.

Scientific research

A statement on the Fair Isle Observatory & Guesthouse website said: "A major fire has tragically destroyed the Obs."

A Scottish Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said: "Operations Control mobilised crews from Fair Isle and Shetland, with the crew from Lerwick transported via the Maritime Coastguard Agency's Search and Rescue helicopter.

"Further resources were later mobilised to help tackle the fire, with two crews transported from Shetland to Fair Isle with the assistance of the RNLI."

The observatory is a popular tourist spot for bird watching and for scientific research into seabirds and bird migration.

It is also important to the economy of Fair Isle, which is famous for its knitting and has a population of about 60.

It was established in 1948 with the current building constructed in 2010, offering three-star accommodation to visitors.

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.

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