Calls for inquiry after Ipping heathland fire put homes at risk

Villagers around Iping and Trotton Common look set to call for an independent inquiry after a fire swept across some 31 hectares of heathland.

Villagers around Iping and Trotton Common look set to call for an independent inquiry after a fire swept across some 31 hectares of heathland.

Anger at negligence of Sussex Wildlife trust whose bonfire got out of control and set fire to 31 hectares of Iping Common. Pic Steve Robards SR1806720

Anger at negligence of Sussex Wildlife trust whose bonfire got out of control and set fire to 31 hectares of Iping Common. Pic Steve Robards SR1806720

The fire started after a controlled burn got out of hand in strong winds.

More than 50 firefighters using eight fire engines and six off road vehicles fought the blaze. Protesters say the fire not only destroyed wildlife habitats but also put people’s homes at risk.

The Sussex Wildlife Trust (SWT), which manages the common, says it is carrying out an investigation. But last night (Wednesday) Trotton and Stedham parish councils were both discussing taking joint action to call for a totally independent review.

Lucy Petrie, chairman of Stedham Parish Council, said: “In my view we must avoid a situation where the report appears to be a whitewash from the SWT who don’t understand the level of anger from residents.”

She said she was at home when the fire broke out on Wednesday, February 28. “It was very windy and quite unsuitable weather for a controlled burn. I am shocked by the extent of the damage, particularly the nesting area used by rarer birds. It appears to me this fire was deliberately lit in a negligent way destroying many wildlife habitats and putting people’s homes at risk.

“We have had no adequate apology and no explanation.”

Neil Ryder, whose home borders the common and who owns a small part of the western end, said: “It was a blustery day – forecast to be windy. My grandchildren have been taught better than to light a bonfire on a day like that. My house became enveloped in smoke. I wasn’t particularly concerned because I knew they were having a burn but then my neighbour phoned.”

He said the fire came close to big holly trees close to his neighbour’s house: “If these had gone up they would have taken the wooden car port and endangered the house.

“I was horrified when I saw how widespread the fire was. There were flames right across the common.”