Emergency services / Fire chiefs move closer to finding cause of Fair Isle fire

The ruins of the bird observatory in Fair Isle after the fire. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

FIRE chiefs are following a “significant lead” on the likely cause of the Fair Isle Bird Observatory blaze earlier this year.

Shetland group manager Matt Mason, however, told members of the isles’ community safety and resilience board on Wednesday that the details could not be publicly be revealed yet due to the ongoing insurance process.


The world-renowned building burnt down in March and firefighters from the Shetland mainland were transported by coastguard helicopter and lifeboat to support the local crew on the remote island.

The blaze, which started in the roof area, spread so quickly that there was little firefighters could do to stop the building being destroyed. No injuries were sustained in the fire.

Mason was questioned on the fire by councillors at the meeting on Wednesday, with south mainland member Allison Duncan asking about a possible cause after praising the “brave” fire crews.

“We are following a significant lead on a probable cause,” the fire chief replied.


Mason added that two reviews are now in place after the incident, one relating to the fire service’s island mobilisation plan and one on the fire coverage in Fair Isle.

Part of the latter review, he said, relates to how there is one fire appliance on the island which is also used for covering planes taking off and landing at the airstrip.

Board chairman Alastair Cooper reiterated the fragility of emergency services responding to incidents on Shetland’s islands, saying it is something that deserves attention.

“It’s the first major incident we have had on an offshore island,” he said.

Mason added that if the observatory fire took place on the mainland then it probably would have had some 12 to 14 fire appliances in attendance.

He said he thought the building would have still burned down if new appliances currently in use in Bressay and Bixter which have technology to cut through concrete and metal were on scene in Fair Isle.