Swinley Forest fire crews 'set to leave'

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

Fire crews have scaled down operations and are preparing to leave the scene of a forest fire in Berkshire - the largest blaze in the county's history.

More than a dozen families have returned home and all but one road around the forest has been reopened.

Berkshire Fire and Rescue said there was a risk remaining hot spots could flare up but it hoped to hand the land back to forest management on Tuesday.

Twelve fire services tackled the blaze, which began on 2 May.

About 25 firefighters were on duty on Monday evening and were expected to remain at the scene overnight.

"There is a continuing risk that remaining hotspots may flare up, particularly as temperatures rise and the strong winds continue," a fire service spokesman said.

"Once fire and rescue service operations have finished there will be an ongoing presence for at least the following two days."

Image caption Peat is still burning underground at the scene but the fire has been contained

About 300 hectares (740 acres) of forest was affected, of which 55% was damaged by the fire and forestry clearing operations.

Windsor Castle

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.

Deputy chief fire officer Olaf Baars, said it had come "uncomfortably close" to high-security Broadmoor Hospital.

"It was coming from the north east and it was blowing the fire in this direction at quite some speed," he said.

"That was our initial priority, to contain the fire away from this conurbation and Broadmoor.

"The fire [ended up] all but underneath the power lines and uncomfortably close to Crowthorne and Broadmoor."

Swinley Forest is a mixed coniferous and broadleaf forest, the majority of which is owned and managed by the Forestry Commission with areas owned by The Crown Estate.

'Emotional element'

Mr Baars said he was hoping to hand the scene over to The Crown Estate, which will work with the Forestry Commission.

Nick Hazlitt, of the Forestry Commission, said his team would have to "start from scratch" to replace the destroyed area, thought to run into costs of £100,000.

"There's clearly a very sort of traumatic, emotional element to this both for me and for my team but also for all the people who live here," he added.

"However the area will still function and very soon we will be able to open the forest back up."

The A3095 Foresters Way remains closed but all other roads in the area, which had been closed, have now reopened.

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