A horse sanctuary owner has promoted the “amazing community spirit” in Dartford after hundreds of people rallied together to round up animals threatened by a huge grass fire.
The Spirits Rest Horse and Animal Sanctuary folds for help after flames threatened to engulf the stables near the Bridge Estate housing development.
At the height of the blaze 18 fire engines were sent to the scene near Durrell Dene and the Dartford Marshes yesterday. Pictures and aerial shots revealed the shocking aftermath earlier today.
Sanctuary owner Christine Bates described to KentOnline the terrifying ordeal as she rushed back from her workplace in nearby Temple Hill at around 12.20pm.
Ms Bates, who lives on the surrounding estate, returned to the Sanctuary to find the rapidly increasing grass fire had come within 20 yards of trees at the back of the stables.
“When I got here the flames were massive,” she said.
“At one point we had 12 different fire vehicles.”
Volunteers put out an urgent plea for horse boxes and people living in the area, businesses, vets and representatives from Dartford council all came to the aid of the charity.
“We had 128 people offer their horse boxes and we said ‘please don’t all come’,” the volunteer added.
“It was just amazing the support we had from everyone. People had offered to come from all over Kent.”
In addition to helping save the horses, people also flocked to offer overnight or temporary shelter to the sanctuary’s other threatened animals, which included chickens, rabbits and fox cubs.
Twelve fire engines increased to 18 by 4.10pm in Durrell Dene, as crews used a fogging unit, two all-terrain vehicles and a bulk water carrier to bring the fire under control and extinguish the flames.
Members of Kent Fire and Rescue Service’s volunteer response team were also on-hand to provide welfare and support to nearby residents.
Following the blaze Ms Bates heaped promoting on the fire crews who battled the blaze in what proved to be record-breaking temperatures.
“They were just amazing,” the former community warden added. “Thirteen hours straight they stood fighting it and they won.
“A couple of times we panicked because of the wind.”
She added: “I have never seen men work so hard. They were coming from everywhere. We had firefighters from Herne Bay.”
Ms Bates has also thanked those who started a GoFundMe online appeal but says they no longer need donations.
She said all monies would be put towards repairing both external and internal fences and installing a back entrance to the property.
The leader of Dartford council, Cllr Jeremy Kite, visited the sanctuary yesterday and spoke to the owner and volunteers.
He said thankfully the damage was minimal but the council would “step in if required”.
“The early stages of the fire were very frightening for people at this amazing facility,” he said.
“KFRS did an amazing job and I am especially proud of the work that our small team here at Dartford council did to help clear a firebreak in the most challenging circumstances.
“I was able to reassure Christine that we are here to help for the long term and although damage was fortunately very minimal to her, we will in if required.”
On the wider issue surrounding the loss of important marshland and natural habitat the Tory leader added it was “obviously devastating”.
“Nature does have a habit of recovering from terrible situations like this but it is clear that a very wide area of green space has been affected,” he said.
“I think we have one of the best teams in the business to guide us towards the best way of managing the future.
“There are so many people to thank within our public services.
“We owe them a huge debt. I saw for myself how difficult the circumstances were and they were incredibly professional and dedicated.”
Stan Smith from Kent Wildlife Trust says wildlife has not evolved to cope with such high temperatures but he is confident it will return.
He told KentOnline: “We don’t have a history of fire within our woodlands and our landscapes in this country and so this really is a new frontier for our species and for our habitats.
Stan Smith from Kent Wildlife Trust says wildlife will return to devastated habitats
“The thing that is really positive is that even where we’ve had these devastating local fires, wildlife, where it is connecting, is able to move back into those areas.
“So they will bounce back. The problems come when these habitats are disconnected from each other and so it’s all about trying to link up those areas.”
As of 5.30pm tonight crews are damping down the last remaining hotspots with two fire engines in attendance.
Crews are also winding down efforts at another of yesterday’s huge blazes on Dartford Heath off the A2.
Firefighters are urging people to avoid walking on charred areas of ground in both locations, as remaining toxins and fumes that will be present for some days to come, can be bad for the health of people and animals.