Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Record dry spell fuels heath blazes

Heath fires near Shiel Bridge, Scotland (Willie Fraser/National Trust For Scotland)
Firefighters try to contain a gorse fire in North Antrim, near Ballypatrick forest (PA)

Hundreds of firefighters have been tackling heathland blazes across the UK after a record-breaking dry spell, with no sign of rain until later in the week.

The hottest April on record, which saw only 21% of the expected rainfall in England and Wales, has caused vast areas of parched land. In some areas, helicopters have been brought in to drop water on to the ground.

Weather forecasters have warned there is little chance of any "substantial" rain falling before Thursday.

About 150 firefighters were called to the Swinley Forest area of Berkshire, where a number of fires broke out. Members of the public were advised to avoid the area for their own safety, with residents asked to keep windows and doors shut. A number of schools in the area were also closed.

In Lancashire, there have been fires on moorland in Belmont, near Bolton, as well as Ormskirk and Bacup. About 50 firefighters are dealing with the Ormskirk peat fire, covering an area of 200 metres squared, which is creating large amounts of smoke. A Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said: "We are hoping it rains, as the land is so dry."

In the Scottish Highlands, wildfires which started over the Bank Holiday weekend were still raging on Tuesday. A fire in Inverkirkaig which started on Monday was being fought on four fronts, while one crew is still in Torridon, where a fire started on Saturday.

Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service said there was "a continuing severe risk of further fires occurring" and added that the wildfires could quickly change direction.

Fire crews were also called to the Balmoral Estate, the Scottish home of the royal family, north of Glen Muick, Aberdeenshire. Grampian Fire and Rescue Service said a large area of heather and gorse was involved.

In Northern Ireland, police were investigating reports of a man seen with a petrol can close to one of the worst gorse fires for years in the Mourne Mountains. Another two youths were spotted lighting fires in south Armagh, reports to the Police Service of Northern Ireland said.

Hundreds of acres of land are being destroyed, and homes and livestock threatened by fires which burned for much of the Bank Holiday weekend in Counties Down, Armagh and Tyrone.

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