Swinley Forest fire evacuees return home

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Media captionThe blaze in Swinley Forest has been the largest in the county's history

Residents who had to leave their homes when a series of fires broke out in Swinley Forest in Berkshire nearly a week ago have been allowed to return.

A fire service spokeswoman said rain that fell over the area near Bracknell on Saturday "was very welcome".

However the peat continues to burn underground and although operations have been scaled down, she urged the public to stay away from the area.

Thirteen nearby homes, which are made from wood, were evacuated last Monday.

Flames got close

Image caption The flames reached the top of the road where Kelly Hutchinson's family live in Brookers Row

Residents Kelly and Simone Hutchinson and their two sons, aged three and five, were given 10 minutes to leave their property in Brookers Row.

Families in the street were told on Saturday night it was safe for them to return home and the Hutchinsons came back in the morning.

He said they were "very, very pleased to be back in".

"It's very difficult, you see the photographs and the news reports and you can see these huge flames coming up," he added.

"Having now been up to the top of our road you can see just how close it got to the house.

"Initially I wasn't actually that concerned, I could see the firefighters in the street. I had every faith they were going to do the job to keep the houses safe.

"But there is that element of worry in the back of your mind: 'Could this be the last time we were going to see the house'."

The fires have been burning since last Monday and up to 300 firefighters from seven county forces have been working round-the-clock using hoses to dampen down "hot spots" over more than 300 hectares (740 acres).

Fire chiefs said it had been the largest blaze in the county's history, exceeding the scale of the 1992 Windsor Castle fire in terms of resources deployed.

Image caption Conservationists said they were concerned about the impact of the fire on wildlife and plants

Eight fire engines remain at the scene and the fires are now under control, the fire service said.

A spokeswoman for Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service added there had been no flare-ups during Saturday and the rain had helped.

She said: "The message to members of the public is to please be patient and continue to stay away from Swinley Forest until the fire and rescue service confirms it's safe to return."

Forest attractions, such as the outdoor activity attraction Go Ape, remain shut.

The A3095 Crowthorne Road, Nine Mile Ride and Foresters Way, which have been shut since the fire began, are set to reopen on Monday, the fire service said.

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