FEARS are mounting in Rhu following a series of hill fires on land above the village.

Fire crews reportedly spent three hours beating out a hill fire near Aldonaig farm last Sunday – the eighth callout to the area since the beginning of April.

Fiona Baker, who lives in the village and is a member of Rhu and Shandon Community Council, said there was growing worry over what might happen if one of the fires were to get out of control.

Ms Baker said: “We’re extremely concerned about the persistent fires at Aldonaig and the risk they pose to the community.

“The potential damage that could be caused if a fire on the hills above Rhu were to get out of control is immense.

“The fire on Sunday [April 25], which was reported to the emergency services by a resident of Clynder, happened next door to the commercial forestry plantation in the Highlandman’s Wood.

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“If a hill fire were to spread to that area, or down the hill towards houses in the village, the consequences don’t bear thinking about.

“And the firefighters who are on the hill beating out bracken fires will not be able to respond to an emergency elsewhere.

“It’s causing fear, it’s as simple as that. If the fire service is having to be called out, clearly that means these fires are not under control.

“The community council is speaking to all parties in the hope that a solution can be found to this ongoing problem.

“In the meantime we would simply ask anyone who sees smoke on the hills above Rhu to call 999 straight away.”

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) has issued three separate wildfire warnings so far this spring – one in March and two last month – advising members of the public to be extremely careful when venturing out to the hills.

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The risk last weekend was deemed “very high” in Helensburgh and Lomond, and “extreme” in other areas.

Further afield, more than 100 firefighters tackled a major gorse fire in the Mourne Mountains in County Down at the weekend.

Ms Baker is also a co-founder of the Help Trees Help Us campaign group, which wants to see better legal protection for Scotland’s designated ancient woodlands – of which the land near Aldonaig is part.

“One oak tree has been burned to a height of about 10 feet,” she added. “I’m an archaeologist, not an environmentalist, but I know that a fire in a designated ancient woodland is not a good thing.”

Gregg McKearney, SFRS group commander with responsibility for Argyll and Bute, said: “Quantities of dead vegetation can provide a plentiful source of fuel for wildfires at this time of year. Many rural and remote communities are hugely impacted by wildfires, which can cause significant damage.

“Livestock, farmland, wildlife, protected woodland and sites of special scientific interest can all be devastated by these fires - as can the lives of people living and working in rural communities.

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“We are asking the public to exercise extreme caution and think twice before using anything involving a naked flame.

“Human behaviour can significantly lower the chance of a wildfire starting, so it is crucial that people act safely and responsibly in rural environments, and always follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.”

Aldonaig’s tenant, Waheed Totakhyl, said he had told the police and fire service in advance about his plan to carry out controlled burning in the area on Saturday and Sunday, and had been present at all times – except for the fire on Sunday evening, which, he said, he had no knowledge of.

Mr Totakhyl told the Advertiser: “I did everything according to the law. I told the fire brigade and the police in advance and I put notices up in Rhu to inform the neighbours.

“I’ve done nothing illegal but people will call the fire brigade when they see smoke.

“But for the last fire on Sunday evening, I don’t know how it happened. I wasn’t in Rhu at the time.”