A discarded bottle or cigarette butt was the likely cause of the blaze that lit up Arthur’s Seat, park rangers have said, with the scorched earth estimated to take as long as five years to regenerate.
About 22 firefighters resorted to battling the unexpected blaze on foot on Sunday afternoon, using beaters and water backpacks as the grass fire threatened to spread rapidly across the Meadowbank side of the hill.
Flames at one point rose to heights of 20ft, having been fanned by strong winds, and crews were forced to temporarily retreat in the face of unpredictable conditions.
Two fire trucks were being used to continue dousing the burned area of park yesterday, with firefighters expected to remain at the scene until at least this morning to ensure the danger had passed.
Martin Gray, ranger and visitor services manager for Historic Scotland, said a large area covering roughly 150m by 200m had been burned.
He said an item as small as a piece of broken glass would have been enough to ignite the blaze – the largest he had witnessed in Holyrood Park for the past two years.
Mr Gray said: “We want people to enjoy their time in the park, but we’re asking them to take extra caution following a very dry summer that has lasted for about six weeks now.
“It’s important not to leave any litter on the ground and for people to pick up any rubbish they come across. Even small pieces of litter can be potentially dangerous. This fire could very well have been started by a glass bottle.
“If anyone is thinking of having a barbecue, we would ask them to keep it well away from vegetation and to make sure it is extinguished and properly disposed of.”
The isolated stretch of park where the fire ignited is typically used by dog walkers and Edinburgh residents, not tourists, with a network of grass trails surrounding Arthur’s Seat.
Mr Gray admitted the fire could have easily spread over a much larger stretch of the park, with the changing direction of winds on Sunday helping firefighters contain the damage.
He said: “It always takes time for shoots to sprout and the gorse and foliage to grow back. This’ll probably take four to five years.” No climbers or members of the public were injured.
A wildfire measuring about 200 sq m also broke out on Cramond Island in the Firth of Forth on Sunday night.
Emergency services, including the RNLI Queensferry lifeboat, were alerted to the blaze at about 7.30pm.
The lifeboat service said about 17 people had been on the island at the time, but were not in any danger.
Firefighters reached the tidal island via the causeway linking it to the mainland and extinguished the flames by about 10pm.