Exhausted firefighters will be helped by 100 soldiers as they tackle a vast moorland blaze in Greater Manchester, which fire chiefs fear will last for several weeks as the scorching weather continues.
The troops from the 4th Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland, are joining more than 100 firefighters who have been working rolling 12-hour shifts to tackle the seven square miles of Saddleworth Moor, smouldering with pockets of fire since Sunday.
An RAF Chinook is also on stand-by should Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) request helicopter help to airlift heavy equipment to high ground on the tinder-dry moors.
Problems faced included frequent changes in wind direction, the peat-embedded terrain that requires large quantities of water to extinguish flames and the searing temperatures.
Fire chiefs revealed on Thursday morning that the operation could last for weeks, amid fears that a change in wind direction could draw flames closer towards residential areas.
Tony Hunter, Assistant Chief Fire Officer, said what they needed most to end the blaze was rain – but none has been forecast.
He said: “We have not seen an indication of any rain coming within the next couple of days stroke weeks, so we can see this being prolonged for days, if not weeks.
“It is dependent on a downpour of rain – and it would have to be a significant downpour of rain because it is so dry it would be absorbed very, very quickly.
“If there is a change in wind to the opposite direction, it is a completely different picture then in terms of the fuel available to this fire.”
Military help was requested by Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) to help battle the blaze, which has raged since Sunday and might have started when sparks from off-road motorcycles set light to dry grass.
The soldiers left their barracks in Catterick, North Yorkshire, and will operate out of an Army training centre to control the fire by managing water lines and fire beating, among other means of support.
If the fire worsens, GMFRS will be able to call out an RAF Chinook helicopter, based at RAF Odiham in Hampshire.
It would be used to lift a high-volume pump, capable of pumping 7,000 litres of water a minute, to pump water up on to the moors in difficult to access areas.
RAF Wing Commander Tony Lane said: “We will make sure the soldiers are working alongside the fire and rescue personnel so they are going to be pairing up together.
“I think we are looking at one firefighter to three or four troops, so they can provide extra manpower to go and support them.”
Speaking on Thursday morning, Tony Hunter, of GMFRS, said firefighters are “extremely pleased” to have support from the military and added: “Those firefighters that will be on the moorland today are the same firefighters that have spent 12 hours on the moorland yesterday.
“The moorland is very difficult to access, our 4x4s can do a role but getting heavier equipment is essential for the helicopter.”
Wind could act as ‘fuel source’ for fire
Mr Hunter said the firefront has widened to two to two-and-a-half miles, in six different locations, and if the wind blows the flames back on to the moors it will act as a “fuel source” for the fire.
Firefighters had been working until dusk on Wednesday night and, as it was too dangerous to go on the moors at night while it is on fire, an assessment at first light showed there was no “significant increase”.
Describing the risks posed by a change in wind direction, he added: “It’s extremely deceiving at the moment, it looks like it’s smouldering away, which it is doing, but with a pick up of the wind we could see pockets being established – we need to keep on top of it.
“We have got square miles of unburnt fuel up there and if there’s a change in wind direction or an increase in temperature we could see that go up.”
Blaze has raged for days and can be seen from space
The blaze had been brought under control having started on Sunday, but it reignited the next day and has continued in one of the worst moorland fires to hit the region.
It was so severe it created an ash cloud over Manchester, turning the sun red, and lowering temperatures in the city by 3C, while the smoke plume over the area was clearly visible on Nasa satellite images.
Firefighters used beaters and specialist wildfire equipment to tackle the flames.
In addition, Greater Manchester Police deployed a helicopter to assess the scene and United Utilities provided a helicopter that can be used to drop water on to remote areas.
Residents struggle to breathe amid toxic smoke
Some 34 households were evacuated in the village of Carrbrook, Stalybridge, on Tuesday night but residents were allowed to return after air quality assessments.
Air quality levels in the area are being monitored regularly in different locations with people in affected areas urged to follow advice from Public Health England and keep their windows and doors closed.
Experts warned that high levels of pollutants generated from the blaze could have a significant effect on people’s health.
Residents in Manchester were left struggling to breathe as toxic smoke swept down from Saddleworth Moor.
Hugh Coe, professor of atmospheric composition at the University of Manchester, said plume peak concentrations were “very high” and air quality close to the fire was “very poor”.
He said pollution plumes have been detected in the centre of Manchester. No rain is forecast for Tameside for the rest of the week at least.
Sparks from off-road bikes could have set light to grass
The cause of the original seat of the fire – thought to be at Buckton Hill, which is land above Buckton Vale, Carrbrook – has not been established, but fire chiefs said a detailed investigation would be launched at the appropriate time.
One possible line of inquiry could focus on the frequent gathering of off-road bikers – many not displaying registered plates – at a nearby large quarry.
It is believed the fire might have started when sparks from off-road motorcycles set light to the grass.
Video: Timelapse video shows how blaze spread
Flames up to 20ft and smoke smelt 40 miles away
Householders living near to Saddleworth Moor described described 20ft high flames which forced them to abandon their homes, while smoke could be smelt in properties 40 miles away in Bolton.
Chris Keytes, and his wife Jane who life in farmhouse above Carrbrook, said: “The flames must have been leaping 20 feet high, but the problem is the wind direction is constantly changing.”
Sue McDowell and her husband Peter had to grab a few possessions and their beloved West Highland terriers and pet cat, after being told by police and the fire service to evacuate their home in Calico Close, Carrbrook.
Mrs McDowell said: “The flames were getting closer and closer and the smoke got thicker – you couldn’t see anything, you could hear the sparks.”
They spent the night in their motorhome on a friend’s driveway before returning on Wednesday morning.
Pete Woodward, whose home backs on to the hills just 22 yards (20m) away, spent the night at his brother’s home nearby after being evacuated on Tuesday evening.
Mr Woodward said: “I got back to the house last night to a towering inferno behind, very apocalyptic in view, and it was quite scary but exciting at the same time.
“The fire brigade were saying ‘You probably need to get your stuff and go’, so it was literally, it was get hold of a bag for overnight and leave, get the cat in the car then get out of there.”
Paula Tootell, who lives in Calico Crescent, said her neighbours were evacuated while she was told by police to stay inside until they were told to move out as the flames raged nearby.
“The hills were on fire,” said Ms Tootell. “It came closer and closer to the properties. Lots of fire engines arrived, we were told that they were putting pipes all around the estate for safety really. Houses across the road and further in, nearer to the fields, were evacuated and we were told to be on alert.
“We could see lots of flames on the hills and the whole of the hills was just red. It was bizarre, and so much smoke, you couldn’t see in front of your face at some points.
“The whole of the hill was just on flames, like a big red ring around the hills. You could see flames literally along the whole of the hill.”
England’s biggest wildfire in living memory
Prior to the blaze, the biggest wildfire in living memory in England occurred in Swinley Forest in Berkshire, in 2011, when 150 firefighters across 21 forces were called in to tackle a blaze which covered 300 hectares.
Larger wildfires have occurred in the North of Scotland, according to the England and Wales Fire Forum in 2003 and 20011, although there is no central database recording the events.
Article Source : https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/06/28/saddleworth-moor-fire-100-soldiers-help-tackle-vast-blaze-will/