AROUND 20 firefighters remain in Fair Isle as they continue to put out the “devastating” fire which destroyed the island’s renowned bird observatory.
There were no injuries reported after the observatory and guesthouse caught fire shortly before midday on Sunday, with the blaze spreading from its roof area.
The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said on Monday morning that approximately 20 fire fighters were still at the scene as they dampened down the remains of the building.
The observatory, which opened in 2010 following a £4 million investment from a number of funding bodies including the trust that runs the observatory, formed a vital thread in the fabric of life on the remote Fair Isle.
Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust president Roy Dennis said it was “absolutely tragic news”, adding that “we have lost much and will lose a year”.
The volunteer fire team from Fair Isle itself – which has a population of around 55 – were joined by colleagues from Lerwick and Sandwick on Sunday, with the Sumburgh based rescue helicopter and the Lerwick lifeboat taking crews to the island by air and sea.
Plumes of smoke could be seen some 30 miles away from Sumburgh on Shetland’s south mainland.
Shetland Islands Council’s Scalloway pilot boat Lyrie also delivered five fire fighters to Fair Isle, arriving at around 11.30pm.
It then took ten back to the mainland as part of a crew change.
A spokesperson for the council said on Monday morning that it is “doing everything it can to support the operation”.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency said it had transferred five fire fighters from Lerwick on Sunday afternoon, and that the Sumburgh helicopter remained on standby in case it was needed again.
The National Trust for Scotland, which owns Fair Isle, said it is “ready and willing to help” in any way it can.
“We were deeply sorry to hear of the destruction caused by the fire at the Fair Isle Bird Observatory yesterday,” chief operating officer Patrick Duffy said.
“However, we are relieved to have confirmation that no-one was hurt as a result.”
RSPB Scotland said it was a “tragedy to lose such a special place”.
“We are relieved to hear no one was injured, and we give our heartfelt thanks to the islanders and emergency services who worked so hard to try and tackle the fire,” it said.
The Bird Observatories Council, meanwhile, said the news was “heartbreaking”, and the Fire Brigades Union paid tribute to the “brave” crew who tackled the blaze.
The building offered three-star accommodation to visitors to Fair Isle between April and October, providing a huge boost to the island in both tourism and employment while at the same time keeping flights from Tingwall Airport busy.
The observatory, which is led by warden David Parnaby and a team including assistant wardens and a ranger, was known for its bird migration studies.
The observatory has carried out research since 1948 before the new building was built in 2010.
It got a spot in the limelight a few years ago in the second series of BBC crime drama Shetland, with lead actor Douglas Henshall posting on Twitter that the fire was “devastating”.