Suspected illegal heather fires have caused panic on the Western Isles after spreading out of control towards homes and businesses.

The fires, which broke out in North and South Harris are thought to be part of the “muirburn” tradition – which permits crofters to burn heather between October 1 and April 15.

Individuals are not allowed to start the blazes themselves, but they should be done with the consent and support of a committee or landowner and with the fire service informed.

The Western Isles alarms came as senior firefighters added their voices to wider concerns over burning uplands over this warm Easter weekend.

The main fire officer for the Highlands confirmed his teams were tackling a spate of blazes across the region.

In the Western Isles, power supplies were cut and roads were closed as firefighters battled to curb the flames.

Although it is unclear how the fires started, there are suspicions among Harris residents that the fires were set as part of the “muirburn” tradition.

Despite the legal parameters for muirburn being set, it could prove tricky for crofters if there is no decent period of dry weather during the permitted season.

It is thought last week’s deadline – combined with the recent dry weather – could have contributed to the Harris wildfire outbreak.

Restaurateur Sally Lessi, owner of the Anchorage Restaurant in Leverburgh, said flames came close to her property and her staff had been in tears. As a result, she had to run between her home and business to make sure there had been no damage.

Ms Lessi said: “People say setting these fires is traditional, but what if we had been dead today, what would they say then?”

The Muirburn Code, set out by Scottish Natural Heritage, outlines that you must have sufficient people and equipment to control the fire properly.

John Mitchel, councillor for the Na Hearadh Agus Ceann A Deas Nan Loch ward, is suspicious that the Harris fires had not been sparked by a rogue cigarette or by campfire embers.

Mr Mitchel said: “I don’t know for sure whether the fires were started by muirburn or by someone’s cigarette, but I have a strong suspicion it was part of the muirburn tradition. Especially as the deadline of April 15 was getting nearer, I am not a great believer in coincidences.”

A spokesman for Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said: “We were mobilised to six different incidents on Harris at various locations across the island.

“These included four on April 9, one on the 10th and one on the 11th.”

Firefighters have worked to contain several large scale incidents across the Highlands over the course of last week – including a large wind driven wildfire that took hold and threatened several properties, causing them to be evacuated near the village of Durness in north-west Sutherland.

Further significant wildfires across the north of Scotland presented serious risk, including an incident at Paul’s Hill Windfarm near Aberlour, Moray.

Highlands fire chief Rab Middlemiss said: “As the warm and dry weather continues, so too does the risk of wildfire. We have seen in the last week just how challenging these fires can become – many rural and remote communities are hugely impacted by these incidents, which can cause significant environmental and economic damage.

“Livestock, farmland, wildlife, protected woodland and sites of special scientific interest can all be devastated by these fires – as can the lives of people living and working in rural communities.

“We are appealing to people to take great care – it is crucial that people act safely and responsibly in rural environments and follow the countryside code.

“Just one heat source, such as a campfire ember, can cause it to ignite and if the wind changes direction even the smallest fire can spread uncontrollably and devastate entire hillsides.”