Emergency services / ‘Very difficult conversations’ during Fair Isle fire debrief

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

THE FIRE service had “some very difficult conversations” with other emergency services in the aftermath of the Fair Isle Bird Observatory blaze, according to a fire chief.

Area commander for the Northern Isles and Western Isles Iain Macleod told a meeting of Shetland’s community safety and resilience board on Thursday that a “significant amount” of work had gone into post-incident debriefs.


The renowned observatory and guest house was burnt to the ground in March, with no injuries reported, and the cause has yet to be formally identified.

The response to the fire saw the local team joined by firefighters from the Shetland mainland, with the coastguard helicopter and Lerwick Lifeboat involved in transporting crews and equipment to the remote island during the lengthy operation.

South mainland councillor Allison Duncan questioned at Thursday’s meeting when a full report on the debrief findings would be made public.

Macleod said the post-incident work had been undertaken in three stages, with the first involving crew who attended the fire. He said liaising with those who were on scene were “a real priority”.


The second stage was “about the support that was given on a local basis”, with the fire chief praising the multi-agency approach.

The third, Macleod said, engaged with “national support”. He said “very frank discussions” were had with lifeboat charity the RNLI and the coastguard when it came to the response to the fire.

The area commander added that “very difficult conversations” were had in particular with the search and rescue element of the coastguard.

That, however, is as much detail the fire chief went into, with the results of the investigation into the blaze likely to be known in December.

“There’s ongoing dialogue to try to improve how things operate,” Macleod added.

Duncan said he wanted to put on record his thanks for the “hard work the crews put in”.

An architect, meanwhile, has been appointed by the Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust as it looks to rebuild the facility with insurance money.

The trust aims to see the observatory open for the 2021 birding season.