Twenty-two fire engines are on the scene as moorland near Bolton continues to be ravaged by “rapidly developing, aggressive” wildfires after two huge blazes merged into one.
The week-long battle around Winter Hill, which is a key communications hub for the North West, was declared a major incident on Saturday and pedestrians and motorists have been urged to stay away.
Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service said the number of crews was reduced overnight, but full firefighting operations are under way again this morning.
Firefighters had been making progress with the fires on the western side of the hill, but throughout Saturday morning high winds pushed another huge fire towards the hill from the east.
The fire service – which sent 120 personnel to tackle the fires – tweeted: “We’re really concerned that members of the public are heading up on to the moors.
We’re really concerned that members of the public are heading up onto the moors. We really appreciate your offer to help but public safety is a priority and we ask people to stay away. Keeping windows and doors closed due to the smoke is also advised. Thank you. pic.twitter.com/PbKYFApuIL
— Lancashire Fire (@LancashireFRS) June 30, 2018
“We really appreciate your offer to help but public safety is a priority and we ask people to stay away. Keeping windows and doors closed due to the smoke is also advised. Thank you.”
Many local roads have been shut in a bid to keep motorists away from the fires and thick smoke.
The enormous smoke-clouds from the eastern wildfire turned daylight into near-darkness at the summit, with visibility down to just a few yards in places.
Phil Whittaker, from Lancashire Fire and Rescue, was driving through the smoke and told Sky News: “It’s quite surreal, it’s like being drawn into darkness, into night time.”
The Lancashire crews that were still fighting the fire with hoses, beaters and garden leaf blowers – which cool down the air around the flames – had been determined to carry on even though they could see the other fire approaching.
Firefighter Trina Burrow explained: “It is demoralising, you feel like you are fighting a losing battle but you have just got to keep trying.”
Resident Phil Farnworth, who was still walking his dog on the hill as the fire crews battled on nearby, described the approaching smoke cloud from the east as “a bit of a monster.”
At lunchtime firefighters were ordered to evacuate, with fire chiefs in the command unit at the bottom of the hill deciding it was too dangerous to keep them working in the diminishing land between the two fires.
The fire engines and about service personnel were split between seven areas to support the operation during the afternoon, with assistant chief fire officer Dave Keelan describing the conditions as “exceptionally challenging”.
Lancashire fire service area manager Tony Cook said “very intensive firefighting” had taken place throughout Saturday, with shuttle runs to collect water, manual beating and the digging of fire break trenches to protect local buildings.
The crews battling the blaze were not scaled back until towards the end of the day.
Ben Levy, Area Manager: “It’s been a long and demanding day with challenging moorland fires plus other incidents facing the Fire Service. I am so proud of our hardworking firefighters and Control staff.
“We have made good progress and will be back out on the moors at daybreak.” pic.twitter.com/jX9A9eOVpv
— Manchester Fire (@manchesterfire) June 30, 2018
Ben Levy, area manager, said: “It’s been a long and demanding day with challenging moorland fires plus other incidents facing the Fire Service. I am so proud of our hardworking firefighters and control staff.
“We have made good progress and will be back out on the moors at daybreak.”
Earlier in the week police confirmed they had arrested a 22-year-old on suspicion of deliberately starting one of the fires in the area around Bolton.
From – SkyNews