DRAMATIC aerial photos show the shocking extent of the damage caused by a fire suspected to have been started deliberately - but praise has been given to the firefighters and members of the public for bringing int under control quickly.

A car and around one hectare of woodland at Hardown Hill, near Morcombelake, were destroyed in what fire officers believe to be arson. 

Firefighters were joined by residents who live nearby in a race against the clock to bring the heath fire under control on Thursday night.

Officers from Charmouth were sent to the scene but on arrival found the fire had spread to nearby woodland and scrubland. 

With the location of the fire making it difficult to get to, further support was requested and locals offered their help and support.

Firefighters from Bridport, Charmouth, Beaminster, Maiden Newton, Weymouth, Wareham, Swanage, Bere Regis, Blandford, Hamworthy, Wimborne, Ferndown, Verwood, Ludgershall and Chard all attended the fire. 

Heavy off-road vehicles, light off-road vehicles and Land Rovers were all requested, and together with firefighters using beaters, the fire was gradually surrounded.

Ian Blakesley saw the fire from the A35.

"It looked very serious so I phoned 999 right away," he said. "When I turned into Ryall, fire engines turned up. A friend of mine had to take the crew and equipment up to the top as they couldn’t get up there. They had to put it out by hand.

"It was very worrying. I really thought it would spread a lot more as it’s all bracken up there."

Ruth Worsley lives nearby.

"We saw a glow behind the trees right at the top of the hill," she said. "The firefighters did a tremendous job and in terrible conditions; the lane is not lit and it's hard to get up there in a vehicle. People who live nearby came out to direct them and take up refreshments as they were there all night. Fortunately the wind took the fire in the other direction - it could have been a lot worse. They controlled it very quickly."

Relief turned to anger as Dorset Police confirmed an investigation into the incident is underway.

Mrs Worsley said: "There is an abundance of rare wildlife at Hardown Hill. Local people are very disappointed in this irresponsible act and angry at the abuse of nature."

Station manager Jason Rogers praised the community for its help.

“Access to the burning car was very challenging, so we were very grateful to those members of the public whose local knowledge and enthusiasm to assist made a real difference in the early stages of our response," he said. "We had to bring in 4x4 vehicles from across the service to support the incident, so the additional help was most welcome.”

Crews remained at the scene most of the night damping down the area using hose reel jets and beaters.

On Friday morning, three Land Rovers from Verwood, Beaminster and Redhill Park were still on the scene damping down hotspots.

Mr Rogers added: "We believe this fire was started through the deliberate ignition of a private car which then spread to approximately one hectare of heath and scrubland.

"We are liaising with Dorset Police to complete an investigation into this incident to avoid any reoccurance."