Scorched moorland 'so hot it can melt your shoes'

By Paul Keaveny
BBC News, Winter Hill

  • Published
Winter Hill FireImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Fire crews from across the country have joined the fight at Winter Hill

Looking out over the blackened, smoking landscape of Winter Hill I was struck by the sheer scale of the wildfire.

After five days it is showing no signs of going out and crews from across the country have been heading to Bolton to help manage the situation.

And manage is about all they can do at the moment.

After just a couple of minutes at the top of the hill my eyes were streaming and black soot and ash covered my skin and clothes.

The charred ground, under which the fire is still burning, is giving off heat and dense clouds of smoke as the wind swirls and changes direction.

The scorched earth is so hot it can melt the soles of your shoes.

Image caption,
The charred moorland stretches as far as the eye can see

The Winter Hill blaze, near a major TV transmitter, is smouldering in pockets across three sq miles (8 sq km).

As I was guided around one part of the moorland, I was warned to stay well away from the scorched land as fires can break out at any point.

You could feel the heat from the ground almost as much as you could feel it from the sun which was relentlessly beating down on the fire crews, who are already hot in their heavy protective clothing.

The conditions have conspired to make life very difficult for them.

Crew manager Stu Hall, of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue, had been battling the blaze since 04:00 BST and said the high temperatures and the wind made things even tougher.

The firefighter swigged water during a quick break while he and his colleagues waited for another pump to reach the top.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said more government support is needed to help tackle the blaze

His face covered in ash, he told me he had never experienced a fire like it.

"I think we are making an impact but it keeps breaking out in different places," he said.

As we spoke, one of his colleagues was just a few feet to our left, beating down some flames.

"Tyne and Wear is quite a built up area so we have never really had anything on this scale," he said.

Looking out across the fire-ravaged moorland, brings home the scale of the effort required.

The helicopter dropping water appears tiny in this huge landscape.

Image source, LFRS
Image caption,
Lancashire Police said it was continuing to investigate the cause of the fire
Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The Winter Hill blaze started on Thursday

"We are just trying to contain it at the moment," Mr Hall told me.

So as the fire crews and the United Utilities helicopter were trying to soak the earth with water, tractors were digging trenches in a bid to stop the fire spreading to nearby houses.

The fire, fuelled by soil and peat, spreads underground.

It is clear that with a wildfire of this size - added to the huge blaze which is still raging in Saddleworth - these firefighters will need more support.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
It is feared the moorland blaze may burn for another week

Mr Hall said they were all grateful for the support of the public, from people donating water, sun cream and hats.

But Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, who went to meet crews at the top of the hill earlier, said it was government support that is needed now.

Mr Burnham said the "brilliant" firefighters needed "air support" to deal with the blaze and said he would be seeking to speak with the Home Secretary "to relay what I've seen and ask the government to take a closer interest in what is happening here".

"The firefighters have been doing a magnificent job... but what I take away from being here is that they need more support, possibly air support," he added.

"This remains a challenging situation and we need to ensure that all necessary resources are made available."

Fewer than two miles down the hill, on Georges Lane, Horwich, you could be forgiven for thinking the fire had gone out as the smoke seems to have dissipated in the hot clear day.

But the smell of smoke on my shirt, ash on my face and stinging in my eyes tell a different story.

Image source, Reuters

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