A HUGE area equivalent in size to 180 rugby pitches has been left scorched by the Wareham Forest wildfire.

Firefighters remained on scene yesterday, working to prevent the blaze that Forestry England says has affected 180 hectares of heath and woodland from reigniting.

At one point the fire front was more than three kilometers long.

It is feared the habitat destroyed could take decades to fully recover.

The cause of the fire, which was upgraded to a major incident on Monday with more than 150 firefighters battling it at its height, remains under investigation.

Dorset Police detectives, who are working with the fire service to determine the cause, have launched an appeal for information.

Detective Constable Richards Evans said: “To our assist our enquiries, I am keen to hear from anyone who was in the area at the time and has any information as to how the fire started to contact us.”

Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service (DWFRS) had around 100 firefighters deployed in the forest yesterday.

DWFRS Chief Fire Officer Ben Ansell said: “Due to the tremendous efforts and hard work of my firefighters and those from neighbouring services over the last 24 hours, we believe the fire in Wareham Forest is now under control.

“Not only do large incidents like this do untold damage to wildlife and the environment, they are also a large drain on resources during a particularly difficult time.

“Although we do not yet know how this fire started, I would urge people across the country to listen to the advice of their fire and rescue service when visiting areas of natural beauty during the coronavirus pandemic.”

Ten fire engines, nine Land Rover pumps, two high volume pumps and a number of support appliances remained at the scene yesterday.

A DWFRS spokesman said: “During the incident, there has also been support from Devon & Somerset FRS and Hampshire FRS, both with crews attending the fire and others providing fire cover.“Firefighters are using hose reel jets, main lines and beaters to bring the fire to a close. While the main blaze is under control, there are numerous hot spots across a vast area and crews expect to be on site for at least most of today.”

Sugar Hill and Bere Road remained closed throughout the day.

As the drama unfolded on Monday, strong winds fanned the flames and smoke could be seen across the conurbation.

Some disruption was caused to local electricity supplies and the A35 between Bere Regis and Morden Park corner was closed until Tuesday morning.

Yesterday, DFRS said: “Smoke is still rising from the scene and affecting a wide area, particularly towards Bournemouth, Poole, Wimborne and Ferndown. If you are affected and are concerned, please keep windows and doors closed as a precaution. At this stage, the cause of the fire remains under investigation.”

Forestry England, which manages the land at Wareham Forest, has thanked everyone who helped fight the fire.

In a statement released to the Daily Echo, yesterday, they said: “The joint working between agencies has been fantastic and essential for responding to this major incident in the nation’s forests.

“Forestry England’s current priority is supporting the emergency services and they are involved with fire management, creating fire breaks, dampening down the fire and rescuing wildlife.

“Wildfires are uncontrolled, unwanted and unplanned. They can cause severe damage to habitats and landscapes, which in some cases can take decades to restore, not to mention impacts on soil, water quality and carbon storage.

“A fire of this scale, currently thought to be over 180 hectares (that’s over 180 rugby pitches), can be devastating to all of the things that make Wareham Forest so special – and they can be especially damaging to the rare birds, plants, reptiles, and invertebrates to thrive in the area.”