Diary - a tour of fire-ravaged heathland

Another sunny and very warm day. I'd organised to meet Fire Chief Ben Ansell at the scene of an horrific heath fire which began on Monday near Bere Regis. The fire actually happened just across the border from my constituency in Michael Tomlinson's. Michael was on Whips' duty in London, so I stepped in and first arrived on site on Monday evening at 2200. Today, Ben took Michael, Cllr Rebecca Knox and I on a tour of the fire and for the first time the full scale of it was revealed. Ben explained how they tackled the blaze and what equipment they used. Although some fire engines have a cross-country capability, but only one vehicle is specifically designed for terrain such as heathland. This is an expensive vehicle and is shared with Hampshire. There is no doubt that, even though fires on this scale and in location like this are rare, another specialist vehicle would be immensely helpful. Ben told us that about 150 firefighters were faced with a wall of flame some 30 to 40 feet high being pushed to the south east by quite strong winds. Clearly, quick thinking was needed to prevent serious risk to life, not least at a nearby holiday camp. Fire chiefs on the scene, with huge experience, did the most awesome job and, battling through the night, managed to stop the fire from going further east than it did. We met members of the herpetological society who were rescuing snakes and lizards and other animals. These animals are vulnerable now from predators like birds as there is no undergrowth. Recovery will take many years, although it will recover. After viewing the scene, Ben took us to a pool on the River Piddle where the fire brigade was extracting water. Ben explained they'd had to lay out several kms of specialist pipe, although it took only four hours to do so, a remarkable feat. Apparently, it'll take the best part of a day to collect it all in. The pipe provided all the water firefighters needed and there were take-off points where vehicles could refill. As you can imagine, this saves fire engines going back and forth from a source of water, allowing firefighters to be far more effective fighting the blaze. After two hours on site, we headed back to our vehicles, suitably impressed and in awe of what firefighters had achieved. Damping down will take some days, apparently. It was also revealed today that the cause of the fire was accidental, not arson. Evidence was found of disposable barbecues, campfires and glass bottles. The message from the fire service is concise: DO NOT LIGHT FIRES OF ANY KIND. I cannot thank firefighters from Dorset and other counties enough for what they did. Their professionalism and courage was of the highest order and how lucky we are to have these dedicated men and women to call upon. Meanwhile, the PM did an about turn on NHS staff and care workers from overseas having to pay an extra charge towards the health service. Regarding the coronavirus, a test is now being trialled that gives a result in 20 minutes. The new swab test - which would show whether someone currently has the virus - does not need to be sent to a lab. Mr Hancock also said more than 10 million antibody tests - that check if someone has had the virus in the past - will start being rolled out next week. And, encouragingly, the number of coronavirus cases in the community is remaining relatively stable, with one in 400 people in England infected. The Office for National Statistics survey has estimated there are around 8,700 new infections a day on average. Figures for people testing positive in labs, however, is roughly 1,200, suggesting thousands more were infected but had no symptoms. Stats and more stats, but we'll only really know more when this is all over. For me, the afternoon, was wall-to-wall conference calls, first to a private group of MPs, then with the Chancellor - which was fascinating but in confidence - followed by one to the managers of the Osprey Leisure Centre on Portland, the police and, finally, the CCG.