Army called in to fight ‘apocalyptic’ moorland blaze

The full moon rises above the burning moorland.

The full moon rises above the burning moorland. Photo: Getty

Soldiers have been sent in to help battle a vast moorland blaze that has raged for days in northern Britain.

About 100 Manchester firefighters are tackling seven fire fronts in an area believed to cover six kilometres of moorland in Tameside. They were joined on Thursday by 100 soldiers.

Residents were evacuated earlier in the week as nine-metre flames came within 200 metres of houses.

Stalybridge MP Jonny Reynolds described the scenes on the moor as “apocalyptic” and “looking like Mordor from Lord of the Rings”.

He said the Saddleworth Moor fire was “on a scale much beyond what we have seen”. Nasa satellites have even caught images of the smoke from space.

The moor covers 75 square kilometres of elevated land, with peaty soil and limited vegetation. The dry peat is perfect fuel for a fire.

“We do get moorland fires pretty regularly in Saddleworth … but this is much worse,” Mr Reynolds said. “Most people are saying it’s the worst moorland fire we’ve had in living memory.”

Further complicating the firefighting effort are frequent wind changes and Britain’s ongoing heatwave. Greater Manchester, like much of the rest of Britain, is enduring near-record temperatures, with no sign of a break in the weather.

A helicopter is dropping water in areas of the moor that are difficult to access on foot.

Earlier, police also assessed the scene from the air and urgent discussions between emergency services and the army followed. The troops were called in to help transport high-volume water pumps into hard-to-reach areas of moorland.

“We have requested military assistance,” Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service emergency response director Dave Keelan said.

“There’s still a lot of smoke from the fire but air quality levels are being monitored regularly in different locations.”

Emergency services say air quality is safe, although residents have been urged to keep windows and doors closed.

Experts have warned that high levels of pollutants from the blaze, which started on Sunday, could have a significant effect on health.

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”. Pollution plumes had been detected in the centre of Manchester, he said.

Brenda Warrington, leader of the local Tameside Borough Council, said: “I think it’s fair to say the air is not toxic but it is tremendously irritiating.

“We have no idea how long this situation will continue because it’s the weather conditions that will determine that and will dictate to us.

“One of the things we need, and I don’t usually ask for this in this kind of weather, is a really, really good downpour, sustained for quite some time.”

saddleworth moor fire

Soldiers help fight the blaze. Photo: Getty

Mr Keelan said emergency crews were doing a good job in tough conditions.

“We’ve seen throughout today how conditions can change in five or 10 seconds when wind direction changes,” he said.

Four schools were closed on Wednesday amid concerns for pupils’ safety.

Among the affected areas is the village of Carrbrook, in Stalybridge, where 34 households were evacuated on Tuesday when strong winds pushed flames close to their properties.

Sue McDowell and her husband Peter had time only to grab a few possessions and their beloved West Highland terriers and pet cat after being told to leave their home.

“The flames were getting closer and closer and the smoke got thicker,” Mrs McDowell said. “You couldn’t see anything, you could hear the sparks.

“We just grabbed whatever we could and got out. It was scary.”

The cause of the fire has not been established but fire chiefs said a detailed investigation would be launched.

-with agencies

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