It’s not often you would ever hear me wish for rain as I can’t stand the stuff, and the current hot sunny weather suits me just fine, but locally there’s been a disaster of such huge proportions that I think many people would welcome a rain storm just now. Soon after 3pm on Thursday last week a wildfire started on Winter Hill not far from the tv mast – about three hours later, as I took the rubbish round to the skip at work, I noticed a big plume of smoke rising up some distance away but couldn’t tell from there where it was coming from. It was only as I was driving home and heading in the right direction that I saw that the smoke was coming from the moorland only a couple of miles up the road from home.
Initially a total of twelve fire engines were sent to tackle the blaze but by nightfall it was covering more than 250 acres with fifteen fire crews trying to stop it from spreading. On Friday a 22-year old man was arrested for arson on suspicion of starting the Winter Hill fire (although later released) but on the same day a second fire started further down the moorland and just above Scout Road where I walked along with the dogs on my quarry walk in early June – it was also just above the path which I walked three times last year to get to the vicinity of the tv mast. This second fire was reported to be one-and-a-quarter miles long and another fifty firefighters were sent there to deal with it, but due to a stiff breeze blowing up on Saturday it merged with the original fire on Winter Hill and a major incident was declared because of possible damage to the tv mast and also the nearby communications systems. Various roads in the area have been closed off, including the one running past the end of my street and going up to Belmont Village and beyond, and at one point, looking between nearby trees and houses, I could see part of the fire from my bedroom window.
On Sunday Michael and I had a drive out to Southport and on the way back we could see part of Winter Hill and the smoke from about twenty miles away, although as most of it now seems to be coming from the back of the hill I can no longer see it from my bedroom window, but with the wind in the right direction I can certainly smell it. As of yesterday the fire has covered more than 3 square miles with as many as 29 fire engines tackling the blaze and helicopters doing more than five runs per hour dropping water on it. With the moorland being made up of mainly peat the ground is burning underneath the surface so as fast as the flames are being extinguished in one place they are starting up again somewhere else – it’s been estimated that it could take another week to extinguish the whole lot completely.
The one thing which saddens me about all this is the loss of various forms of flora and fauna. The Woodland Trust owns a 1,700 acre estate in that area, part of which is on some of the affected land, and a large part of that estate has been burnt; it was home to several species of delicate and rare plants, and creatures such as the brown hare, lapwing and common lizard. Breeding and ground-nesting birds will have been affected and the fire has also burnt into the first trees to be planted as part of the Northern Forest project; whole eco systems will have been wiped out and the habitat will take years to recover. I wonder if the person, or persons, who started all this, whether deliberately or carelessly, ever stopped to think what consequences their actions would have for everything and everyone affected? – probably not.
Although the photos above are the only ones I’ve been able to take of part of the fire (the public are being advised to stay away from the area although there are some idiots who are ignoring that advice) there are some excellent and very powerful shots to be seen on here. A recent weather forecast is for the hot dry days to continue for a while yet so as much as I don’t like rain I really hope we get a prolonged and torrential downpour before too long and the fire is extinguished properly before it does any more damage.