A plea has been made for people not to light fires in Croham Hurst Woods after a 21 firefighters were called to tackle a blaze on Saturday (June 30).

Maria Gatland has been the chairwoman of Friends of Croham Hurst Woods since 2002, the same year she was elected as a Croydon councillor.

She said the fire at the weekend was the worst she had seen in the woods in South Croydon. The nearly 85 acres of woodland is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest SSSI and owned by Croydon Council.

Cllr Gatland said: “It is one of the most important sites in Croydon and it is a place where fires are strictly prohibited.

“Myself and the volunteers had a work morning on Saturday, I came home and sat down for a cup of tea when a woman knocked on my door.

“She said she had seen a group of young people sitting in the slopes at the top she said they were smoking.

“She then saw an orange flame shooting up to the sky.”

After a call to 999, 21 firefighters arrived on the scene to put the fire out.

“The firefighters had a job to dampen it down – they were absolutely fantastic,” said Cllr Gatland.

“A lot of the heathland has been destroyed now, it will recover but it will take time.

“This is the worst [fire] I’ve seen.”

The South Croydon ward councillor now wants to highlight the dangers of any fire in the woods.

“There is a lot of wildlife in the woods, there would have been lizards in that heather that may well have been killed – It is heartbreaking,” she said.

“It is just a matter of trying to get the message out, I have been trying on every social media platform.

“I hope this could be a wake up call to people it is quite shocking when you see the damage.

“It is not just young people I have seen and spoken to families up there to tell them to put out their barbecues.”

London Fire Brigade were called to the woods at about 2pm on Saturday (June 30) with four fire engines and 21 firefighters battling the flames for three hours.

Another 10 firefighters went back the next morning and were there for two hours.

On Wednesday (July 4) firefighters were called back to the woods at 12.45pm.

The fire investigations team did not attend on each occasion and has not opened an investigation into the cause of the fire.