Quick-thinking children help stop wildfire in Southwater

Quick-thinking by a group of children led to prompt action to stop a wildfire from spreading to a nearby church when it broke out in a village field on Sunday.

Twelve-year-old Andrew Neller rushed to raise the alarm when he, his brother, sister and a friend spotted smoke from the fire off Church Lane, Southwater.

Rhys and Andrew Neller and friend Aiden Shopland with Amy Ayres and Darren Shopland. Photo: Steve Robards

Rhys and Andrew Neller and friend Aiden Shopland with Amy Ayres and Darren Shopland. Photo: Steve Robards

Andrew dashed back to his home in nearby Ash Road and told his mum: “I think something bad is happening.”

Mum Amy Ayres said Andrew was ‘pretty insistant’ and she went to look and immediately called firefighters.

“When I got there I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” she said. “The fire was really picking up. There were about four different spots that were on fire. It was spreading so quickly.

“The trees were literally going up. I was starting to panic. It was heading straight for the vicarage, the graveyard and the field opposite which would have gone up like paper.”

She said firefighters arrived within minutes and quickly put out the flames. “They said we called just in time, even 10 minutes later and it would have been 100 times worse.”

She praised son Andrew, his brother Rhys, 10, sister Ruby, seven, and friend Aiden Shopland, six, for raising the alarm. “I’m very proud of my kids and their friend,” said Amy.

And she praised Andrew’s “amazing and sensible actions for being persistent and making me go to see what was happening.”

She said she thought the fire had been started deliberately and that two teenagers had been seen running away from the scene.

Firefighters spent almost three hours damping down the field after extinguishing the fire. They said that around 60 per cent of the field had been damaged.

Meanwhile, in a separate incident, Horsham Police put out a smouldering fire in Bennetts Field, Horsham, yesterday after being called to the area following complaints of anti-social behaviour.

Officers said someone had lit branches pulled from nearby trees. In a message on social media they warned: “In the current hot and dry climate this could have easily got out of control putting people at risk.”