The huge moorland fire which has been burning just a couple of miles up the road from home is now in its ninth day, and though much of it has been extinguished there are still many parts of the moors with peat continuing to burn just under the surface of the ground, evidenced by the large patches of white smoke rising up in many places and the presence of the United Utilities helicopter as it continually drops water to soak the land. Road blocks are still in place and an exclusion zone has now been set up to keep people away from the affected area.
On Wednesday I had to clean at the boss’s house, which is up the main road about halfway between my house and part of the fire, and thinking ahead to going up to my friend’s at Belmont Village I drove past the boss’s place to see how far up the road I could get. The answer was not very far as the rest of the road was blocked off at the junction with Scout Road and it was easy to see why – with the exception of one small corner much of the land above the lower end of Scout Road and along the main road heading towards Belmont was a blackened and charred mess, and with no traffic the normally quite busy road was eerily silent.
When I’d finished my work at the boss’s house I left the van there and took a walk through the nearby farm and fields to see if I could see anything from a different viewpoint. Birds tweeted and chirped in the nearby trees and hedgerows, and butterflies flitted among the tall grasses and wild flowers – it was an idyllic, if rather hot, summer’s day and it was only the constant noise of the sometimes unseen helicopter which gave a clue to the nearby serious situation. Although the path would eventually take me up onto part of Scout Road I didn’t want to go that far if I wasn’t supposed to be there so I just took a couple of long-distance shots then turned and made my way back to the van.
Yesterday morning I found out that the country road between Belmont Village and the Egerton/Bromley Cross areas on the northern outskirts of town had been reopened to allow villagers in and out of Belmont without having to go miles out of their way, so when I left work at Bromley Cross I went straight over to my friend Janet’s place. Driving along that road I had a good view over to the moors and Winter Hill so I pulled up in a lay-by to take a few photos; the fire damage was extensive and there was still smoke rising from the ground in many places – and that was just one section of the whole moor.
The support by local people for the fire crews and mountain rescue teams working long exhausting hours in the current hot weather has been fantastic. Individuals and schools have donated bottled water, energy drinks, biscuits, crisps, chocolate bars and other snacks as well as sun cream, insect repellent, socks and caps, and a local supermarket has donated a refrigerated vehicle to keep all the food and drink cool. On Wednesday and yesterday a local branch of McDonald’s provided 200 meals for the fire crews and a sports massage place within a town centre fitness studio is offering free massages this weekend to the firefighters and rangers who have worked all week. Also starting today a local micro brewery/pub will have a 50 litre keg of beer available for any firefighters to have a free pint after their shift and it will stay on tap until they finish it.
The children at the primary school just up the road from me have painted some great messages of thanks and encouragement onto flattened cardboard boxes and these have been fastened to the roadside barriers outside the school where the fire crews can see them as they drive up and down the road – I noticed them on Wednesday when I was driving back from the boss’s house and thought they were so touching that I just had to stop and take a photo of them.
There’s been a couple of unexpected rays of hope in this disaster though. At the beginning of the week a firefighter rescued a small bird which he found among the smouldering grass, and on Tuesday evening a member of the mountain rescue team saw three deer and a few pheasants on the moor, showing that in spite of the large-scale devastation some creatures have managed to escape and are still alive. It will take a long time for the moorland to fully recover from this disaster but for now I can only hope that when the fire is finally extinguished for good and the ground cools down more creatures will find their way back there and continue to live their lives in peace.