By DAILY MAIL REPORTER
A huge wall of smoke and flames towers over homes at Upton Heath near Poole in Dorset. Firefighters eventually managed to halt its progress when it was just 100 yards from houses
Residents flee as flames are fanned by strong winds
Biggest blaze in the area for 30 years devastates 250 acres of heath
Fire brigade say it could have been 'malicious'
A terrifying wall of flame and thick acrid smoke dwarfs the small town of Upton Heath as the biggest wildfire in decades sweeps across heathland in Dorset.
The blackened heath is just visible beneath the pall of choking smoke. At one stage the plume rose 500ft into the air
Residents fled their homes as strong winds fanned the blaze and caused it to spread rapidly across 250 acres of tinder-dry gorse and heath. Nearly 200 firefighters, a helicopter and 30 fire engines tackled the inferno but were hampered by the rough terrain.
At the height of the blaze, a plume of smoke 500ft high dominated the skyline for miles, blocking out the sun and causing members of the public to choke. Four people had to be taken to hospital for smoke inhalation.
Exhausted firefighters eventually managed to contain the fire when it was just 100 yards from a homes. At one stage the flames actually came up to the perimeter wall of one of the houses.
Perilously close: Homeowners scrambled to safety as the biggest fire for more than 30 years approached their homes
A terrifying wall of fire sweeps across the tinder-dry heath. Fire chiefs believe the fire could have been malicious
Emergency crews called to the scene near Poole at 2pm yesterday said the fire was the largest to hit the area since 1976.
Eight hours later they had extinguished the blaze but were still putting out small pockets of fire and warning people to stay off the heath. Residents who fled were today returning to their homes.
A spokesman for Dorset Fire and Rescue Service said: 'The fire is now out and all buildings are safe. There are still a few small pockets of fire which crews are dealing with.
'We are asking people to stay off the heath and keep themselves safe.'
Fleeing the flames: Families were evacuated from the area as the fire approached their homes. One firefighter was taken to hospital with 'extreme exhaustion' and another suffered burns to his arm.
Investigations into the cause of the fire are continuing but the spokesman suggested it could have been 'malicious'.
A spokesman said: 'We are carrying out an investigation but we do believe the fire might be malicious.'
One firefighter was taken to hospital with 'extreme exhaustion' and another suffered burns to his arm.
Incident commander Keith Bacon said: 'Many firefighters will go their whole careers without attending anything this big.'
Thin green line: A man walks his dog this morning along this strip of green untouched by fire. The path through the heathland is believed to have acted as a natural firebreak
Firefighters managed to get the blaze under control overnight but 250 acres of heathland has been affected
Blackened countryside is all that is left after the huge blaze. Firefighters spray water over the charred ground ensuring every remnant of the fire is out
Survivor: A lizard clings to a charred tree branch. The environmental impact of the Dorset fire will be enormous for years to come