If you ask me it was bound to happen. The Flats are dry as a bone, and people are remarkably stupid. I was in the greenhouse dozing off when I noticed the light had a peculiar golden quality. Odd, I thought, and went out into the garden to find I could hardly see for the smoke. One of the kids was desperately trying to close the windows - it being a warm day pretty much all of them were open. A grass fire on Wanstead Flats, and really not very far away from the house. Chateau L still stands you will be relieved to hear.
It burned for probably three hours, and at one stage the Fire Brigade had 40 engines here and over 200 firefighters trying to contain the blaze. They have done a remarkable job in breezy conditions, but the fire still managed to jump across main roads. Many local people went to rubberneck, but I was not one of them. Instead here is a photo nabbed from the Police helicopter (NPAS) that spent many hours circling round just above our house.
The main burnt bit is the SSSI, an excellent area for breeding birds but thankfully not for our endangered Skylarks. Nonetheless the damage is considerable - the area near the obvious dog-leg was once amazing scrub - it's where the second patch Wryneck was found, and we affectionately called the bush it liked to sun itself in the "Wryneck Bush" I've not been out, but I suspect it is now the "Wryneck Pile of Cinders". At one stage the smoke was so thick I couldn't see out of the window, and the inside of the house has a fair amount of ash in it.
It also looks like the whole of the birch copse has gone, as well as the tree I saw my first patch Redstart in. Devastation. The houses closest to the road were evacuated. We didn't suffer that, but Mrs L had to go out shortly after it started to pick up a child, and what should have been a 30 minute run took three hours as the Police set up cordons that she could not get back through. In other words and barring the smoke it was a nice peaceful afternoon!
I'm dreading going out on the patch again. It was looking great the other day - more late August than mid-July, but full of insect life - butterflies galore and loads of flowers. Unfortunately some tosspot has, through either carelessness or malice, ruined the area for the next few months. The grasses will recover - I've seen them burn before albeit not as extensively, but the broom and the scrub will take many years to come back,and one of my favourite places for Warblers is no more. Long Wood has also been hit once the fire jumped the road. It looks like the trees are OK, but the fabulous scrub around the margins has gone - another great migrant trap exterminated - what the Corporation started someone else has sadly finished. I'll go out and assess the full extent of the damage later on, for now I think the Fire Brigade are still on site in case it flares up- big fires like this can actually continue burning underground. Such as shame, but we're all still here and we'll keep on birding it.