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Moors fires could take weeks to extinguish as second blaze breaks out

A second moorland fire broke out near Rivington, Lancashire.

A series of “apocalyptic” wildfires on the Pennine moors could take weeks to put out, the fire service has warned.

Seven square miles of Saddleworth Moor has gone up in flames, blanketing the Greater Manchester region and beyond in smoke and ash.

Scottish soldiers from the 100-strong A Company of the 4th Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland, known as the Highlanders, have joined more than 100 firefighters who have been battling the blaze since Sunday, leading to a “significant improvement”.

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Firefighters tackle the wildfire on Saddleworth Moor which continues to spread (Danny Lawson/PA)

Meanwhile, a new moorland blaze – on Winter Hill, near Rivington, Lancashire – broke out on Thursday with huge plumes of smoke visible from the area surrounding the moorland.

Fifteen fire engines from Lancashire Fire and Rescue spent the night on the moors preventing the fire spreading further.

Speaking about the Saddleworth blaze, Tony Hunter, assistant chief fire officer of Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS), said there had been a “significant effect” on the fire in the past 24 hours and work was continuing with the help of the Army.

“We have made significant improvements but I would put an air of caution there though, we had a similar occasion yesterday where we thought we were on top of it and it flared up.”

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Firefighters tackle a wildfire on Winter Hill near Bolton (Danny Lawson/PA)

Mr Hunter cautioned that while the fire was now “contained and under control”, he said “things can develop” and if the wind blows the flames back on to the moors, it will act as a “fuel source” for the fire.

He said the operation could last for weeks before the fire burns itself out, though the Army deployment is for an initial 48 hours.

Mr Hunter said a good downpour of rain was needed to saturate the dry ground and vegetation – but none is forecast for days as the heatwave continues.

Major Phil Morgan, commanding the Army detachment, said: “We meet every challenge and commit 100% in what we do.

“Currently we have broken our boys down into various locations and we are beating the fire with paddles and we are supporting them by moving equipment, we are putting water on the fires and we are doing everything we can to stop this fire at the moment.

“We are truly really happy and excited to be here and the boys are cherishing every moment of it.”

Pete Woodward, whose home backs on to the hills just 22 yards (20m) away, spent the night at his brother’s home nearby after being evacuated on Tuesday evening.

Mr Woodward said: “I got back to the house last night to a towering inferno behind, very apocalyptic in view, and it was quite scary but exciting at the same time.”

Dave Saxon, director of operations at Tameside Council, said the local authority was monitoring air quality, which had improved on Thursday, and there had as yet been no increase in GP appointments or attendance at A&E.

Fire chiefs say they are “not confident” of finding out how the fire began, given the size of the blaze, but there was no evidence it had been started by BBQs or off-road bikers.

Around 10 fire engines, along with specialist vehicles, helicopters, mountain rescue and Army trucks, are now deployed at Swineshaw Reservoir, Stalybridge, as an operating base.

If the fire worsens, GMFRS will be able to call out an RAF Chinook helicopter, based at RAF Odiham, Hampshire.

It would be used to lift a high-volume pump, capable of pumping 7,000 litres of water a minute, to pump water up on to the moors.

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