The huge fire which has been alight on Saddleworth Moor for over a week is now being investigated as arson, Greater Manchester Police has said.
Police say witnesses reported that people were lighting a bonfire on the moorland above Stalybridge, Greater Manchester, on the early evening of Sunday June 24 – about 50 minutes before the first emergency call to raise the alarm.
The fire on land at Buckton Vale, east of Manchester, later led two days later to the evacuation of dozens of homes in the village of Carrbrook as flames threatened to engulf properties and continued to spread as fire crews from across the country, with the assistance of the Army, successfully battled to keep the area safe.
On Wednesday with the fire still burning, although under control, Greater Manchester Police said the bonfire sighting was being pursued as a possible line of inquiry.
Chief Superintendent Neil Evans said: ‘The moorland fire is now being investigated as arson following information from local witnesses and initial inquiries.
‘The scale of this fire is exceptional and we are treating it with the utmost seriousness.
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‘That said, we are under no illusion that solid evidence as to where the fire started and what was the cause will not be easy to establish.’
Interim Chief Fire Officer Dawn Docx added: ‘Specialist fire investigation officers at Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service are working closely with Greater Manchester Police to investigate the suspected arson in the moorlands in Tameside.
‘Investigations are currently ongoing with a multi-agency approach to find the source of the ignition. There is an area of interest that specialist officers are inspecting.’
Military support to Greater Manchester firefighters working to control the blaze on Saddleworth Moor is to be extended for another three days, Downing Street has said.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘It has now been extended to 5pm on Friday to ensure that they continue to get the support and equipment they need to successfully fight these fires.
‘Obviously if further support was to be needed beyond Friday we would look at that in the usual way.’
Around 100 troops from the Royal Regiment of Scotland have been involved in the operation.