Daily Mail

IN­FERNO ON THE MOORS

Ter­ri­fy­ing scenes as 20ft flames rise over Sad­dle­worth and ash rains on nearby homes

- By Robert Hard­man Fires · Disasters · Finland · West Yorkshire · Derbyshire · United Kingdom · The Lord of the Rings · Mauritania · Manchester · Saddleworth · Stalybridge · Stalybridge Celtic F.C. · Calico · Mossley

From a dis­tance it re­sem­bles mount Etna in a bad mood. Down on the ground, though, it’s like be­ing in a sea fog, ex­cept that ev­ery­thing smells like a cross be­tween a bon­fire and the peati­est malt whisky.

Pe­ri­od­i­cally, lo­cals wan­der through the gloom look­ing like some­thing out of a sci-fi movie.

Every now and then, the fog clears to re­veal dis­tant posses of plucky fire­men, some­where up on high, whack­ing the ground with gi­ant fly swats – called ‘beaters’ – or heav­ing coils of thick hose to an­other hot spot. The lo­cals are used to the oc­ca­sional sum­mer heath fire here on Sad­dle­worth moor at the up­per end of the Peak District. Yet no one can re­mem­ber the last time they had one quite like this, with flames reach­ing up 20ft and ash fall­ing like rain on nearby homes.

Ac­tu­ally, as of last night, there was not one fire but seven fires with vary­ing de­grees of fe­roc­ity on these hills that con­nect Greater manch­ester, West York­shire and Der­byshire.

With tem­per­a­tures touch­ing 90 de­grees and no rain for over a week, the fires have made Sad­dle­worth moor un­ques­tion­ably the hottest place in Bri­tain this week.

Jonathan reynolds, Labour mP for Staly­bridge, called the scenes ‘apoc­a­lyp­tic’ and ‘look­ing like mor­dor from Lord of the rings’.

‘We have had moor­land fires be­fore but this is way beyond anything I have ever ex­pe­ri­enced. Just as it ap­pears to be get­ting bet­ter, it picks up again some­where else,’ mr reynolds told me. ‘You get a real sense of the ge­og­ra­phy of the fire at night. It’s very dra­matic. But we will get a plan to­gether and we will beat this.’

To­day, the Army will join the op­er­a­tion to keep this wholly un­pre­dictable bat­tle un­der con­trol. For the mo­ment, the mil­i­tary will help with fer­ry­ing fire­fight­ers and their equip­ment to the more re­mote flare-ups. No troops on the ground just yet.

Last night Wing Com­man­der Gary Lane of the rAF said a Chi­nook he­li­copter could be used to trans­fer the fire service’s four­tonne in­dus­trial wa­ter pumps. mil­i­tary all-ter­rain ve­hi­cles could also be de­ployed.

The worst of the fire, now in its fifth day, has been work­ing its way through the wilder parts of the Peak District. Yes­ter­day, it was at its fiercest around the Higher Swine­shaw reser­voir.

But, though these blazes may, at times, re­sem­ble a bush fire rag­ing in the Aus­tralian out­back, we are not in kan­ga­roo coun­try. None of it is more than a few miles as the crow flies from manch­ester or Hud­der­s­field.

These hills are cov­ered by dense lay­ers of peat which can burn sev­eral feet be­low the sur­face, so fires may move in one di­rec­tion while the wind is blow­ing in the other.

The fact that the wind kept chang­ing di­rec­tion any­way meant that track­ing out­breaks was vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble yes­ter­day. There was, how­ever, not the faintest sign of panic or even frayed tem­pers in the towns and vil­lages on the edge

of Sad­dle­worth Moor. An im­pres­sive if rather whiffy sto­icism was the or­der of the day.

Worst hit has been the vil­lage of Car­rbrook, near Staly­bridge. On Mon­day night, 30 homes had been swiftly evac­u­ated when the flames worked their way down to the edge of a hous­ing es­tate.

By 8pm Kelly McFie, hus­band Johnny and son Os­car, seven, had been given or­ders to move – fast. They had to round up two re­luc­tant cats and Bobby the dog and go round to Johnny’s par­ents a few miles away for the night.

‘It was scary, we could hear the flames crack­ing,’ says Kelly.

Elaine and Dave Cartwright left at around 10.30pm that same evening. Elaine’s abid­ing mem­ory, was the rather poignant sight of an ice cream van driv­ing through the may­hem of smoke and blue flash­ing lights of­fer­ing free late-night ice creams to the fire­fight­ers.

Greater Manch­ester fire bri­gade has done such a good job of main­tain­ing what they called a ‘wall of wa­ter’ above Cal­ico Cres­cent that, by last night, the res­i­dents were back at home.

The wind had shifted yet again so that an east­erly breeze was send­ing ash and smoke to­wards Manch­ester. The res­i­dents of Car­rbrook had long stopped com­plain­ing about that. The place is go­ing to pong like a kip­per fac­tory for weeks.

‘I have to let the dogs out for a few min­utes every now and then and, even af­ter five min­utes, they come back in stink­ing of smoke,’ said Natalie Kennedy, head­ing home from the shops with grand­son Jack Tow­ell, ten. Jack was find­ing the fire en­gines ex­cit­ing but was sad that his school had can­celled sports day, sched­uled for to­day. ‘I was look­ing for­ward to the egg and spoon race,’ he sighed.

Both of them were wear­ing the face­masks which the po­lice have been dis­pens­ing to all and sundry. Within min­utes of ar­riv­ing in Car­brook, I was of­fered one by a com­mu­nity sup­port of­fi­cer.

It seemed pretty point­less, par­tic­u­larly since the crew of the fire en­gine across the road were not wear­ing masks as they grabbed a breather, a drink and a sand­wich. Hav­ing slogged up and down these blaz­ing hills in full breath­ing ap­pa­ra­tus with heavy hoses, the peaty air down here in the vil­lage seemed pos­i­tively Alpine-fresh.

Yes­ter­day teatime, lo­cal MP Mr Reynolds had ar­rived to thank fire chief Dave Kee­lan for the work that his 100-strong team had been do­ing. They will be do­ing it again to­day, aided by fire­fight­ers from neigh­bour­ing coun­ties.

Back in Car­rbrook, I met Mark and Sally Lew­cock walk­ing their dog. They had noth­ing but praise for the fire bri­gade and were plan­ning to stay put in their home. The main drama in the Lew­cock house­hold were the plans for last night’s end- of-year prom at daugh­ter Gabby’s school. It was still due to take place at a lo­cal ho­tel just beyond the worst of the smoke. ‘She’s re­ally wor­ried her dress is go­ing to smell,’ said Mark. ‘But we have pointed out to her that ev­ery­one is go­ing to smell the same.’

Driv­ing around the area, the spread of this con­fla­gra­tion is weirdly ran­dom. Up above the small town of Moss­ley, I found a grassy field full of sheep on one side of a dry stone wall and small fires pop­ping up through the charred up­land on the other side.

A fire of­fi­cer soon popped up through the murk and very po­litely but very firmly told me to get off his hill. I would strongly ad­vise even the most militant ram­bler not to de­mand the right to roam in this part of the Peak District come the week­end.

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 ??  ?? Main pic­ture: The moon rises over an arc of flame on Sad­dle­worth Moor. Above: The moor is left a smoul­der­ing waste­land. Right: Ex­hausted fire­men take a break
Main pic­ture: The moon rises over an arc of flame on Sad­dle­worth Moor. Above: The moor is left a smoul­der­ing waste­land. Right: Ex­hausted fire­men take a break
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 ??  ?? Masked: A woman in the murk with her shop­ping
Masked: A woman in the murk with her shop­ping

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