FORMER Devizes nurse Debby Burton is enjoying a blaze of glory among the ex-pat community of the Algarve in Portugal after being awarded the British Empire Medal.

For Mrs Burton, 55, has been rewarded for her work in setting up a charity that provides support for firefighters in the region and keeping the local community informed about forest fires.

She said: “When the ambassador rang me to tell me I had been nominated and it was all agreed I was completely gobsmacked.

“I was sworn to secrecy which was very difficult but I was allowed to tell my husband Andrew. He thought I was joking.”

Mrs Burton, who grew up in Devizes and went first to St Peter’s and then Devizes School, trained as a mental health nurse at Roundway and later worked at Green Lane Hospital.

The couple, who have two grown up sons, moved to Portugal nine years ago. She quickly became aware of the problem of fires in the mountain areas of the Algarve and originally set up a Facebook group and website to warn people about what was happening.

Later she realised the firefighters were badly in need of support and arranged for them to get supplies of water and food. Three years ago her Forest Fire Alert Association became a charity.

She said: “We have now been able to bring a lot of different groups such as welfare and animal organisations together as when there is a bad fire a lot of different aid is needed.”

She will be presented with her medal by the British ambassador in Portugal in coming weeks and will later attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace.

Her parents Marion and Peter Hughes still live in Devizes and were delighted with the news of her royal honour.

A fellow expat said: “During drama of the summer months, the charity is on hand to stock local stations with bottles of drinking water, supplies of easy-to-eat energy snacks, creams to calm burns, dry socks, clean knickers, you name it, the volunteers find it and get it to the right place or places. It has brought the community together.”

Local businesses help, local restaurants help – in short, “The effort has brought the community together in a way nothing before ever has.”

“Language barriers have been overcome by firefighters’ clear understanding that this is a group – largely made up of foreigners – that simply wants to do its best for the men and women who go the extra mile in more-often-than-not horrendous conditions whenever the need arises.

“But there hasn’t been much time for ‘celebrations’ of the Queen’s award for ‘meritorious actions’. Almost the minute Debby broke the news of her marvellous medal, wildfires started taking hold.”