Fire chiefs appeal for vigilance as crews battle countryside blazes

By Press Association reporters

Fire chiefs have called for vigilance as hundreds of firefighters battle blazes across Britain’s parched countryside.

Wildfires have destroyed swathes of countryside the length of Britain, with dozens of fires breaking out before and during the warmest Easter weekend on record.

The fires have hit Moray, Scotland, Blaenau Ffestiniog, north Wales, Dartmoor in Devon and on moors in West Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Greater Manchester. Blazes also broke out in the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland.

Helicopters are being used to douse smouldering moorland with water while homes have been evacuated, roads closed and livestock moved as flames threaten.

Dozens of crews have been working around the clock beating down the flames and using water jets.

Some of the fires are believed to have been started by people carelessly using BBQs while enjoying the countryside, but fire chiefs also believe some have been started deliberately.

In Greater Manchester firefighters are currently at five separate locations on the Pennine Moors bordering Yorkshire and Derbyshire.

Phil Nelson speaks to the media near Delph, Greater Manchester (Peter Byrne/PA)

Phil Nelson, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service group manager, said crews were also helping colleagues with the fire in West Yorkshire and another one near Tintwistle, Derbyshire.

He said their priority was to stop the flames spreading to homes and businesses.

Mr Nelson, speaking near the site of a fire in Diggle, near Oldham, said: “Please go out and enjoy the moors but please be careful and vigilant when you are out and about.

“We do believe that fires have been started deliberately. We have had anecdotal evidence from the local community to identify off-road motorbikes, young people going out on the moors, not to enjoy it but to cause anti-social behaviour.

“It is very difficult to say why moorland fires happen naturally at this time of year. What I would say is the moors are very dry on the top and you’ve got a lot of unburnt vegetation that is very easily ignited.

“We’ve had reports from our partners, from rangers up on the moors, showing people have been using barbecues and over the weekend at least five barbecues were confiscated by the police up around the Dovestones area.”

Hundreds of acres of moorland has gone up in flames on Marsden Moor in West Yorkshire – suspected to have been caused by a BBQ.

Wildfires have also broken out across Scotland, with up to 70 firefighters tackling a large blaze near a wind farm near Aberlour, Moray, on Monday.

Around a dozen separate blazes broke out across miles of Dartmoor in Devon while in Wales fire crews have been battling a huge mountain blaze which has seen around 20 homes evacuated overnight near Blaenau Ffestiniog, in Gwynedd, North Wales.

Though no casualties have been reported, moorland fires last summer cost the fire service £1 million in Greater Manchester alone.

Mr Nelson added: “We are only in April. It’s a real concern. Going forward its quite worrying to see how early we are getting these fires and we are not even really into the summer period.

“It’s not one thing I normally do is pray for rain, but we are praying for rain to help suppress some of the hotspots we have got at difficult locations across the moor.”

– Three men have been arrested over a fire on Ilkley Moor in West Yorkshire.