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Saddleworth Moor blaze being treated as arson

People reportedly lit a bonfire on moorland above Stalybridge on June 24, according to police.

A blaze on Saddleworth Moor which fire crews have been fighting for more than a week is being treated as arson.

Police say witnesses reported that people were lighting a bonfire on the moorland above Stalybridge, Greater Manchester, on the early evening of Sunday June 24 – about 50 minutes before the first emergency call to raise the alarm.

The fire on land at Buckton Vale, east of Manchester, later led two days later to the evacuation of dozens of homes in the village of Carrbrook as flames threatened to engulf properties and continued to spread as fire crews from across the country, with the assistance of the Army, successfully battled to keep the area safe.

On Wednesday with the fire still burning, although under control, Greater Manchester Police said the bonfire sighting was being pursued as a possible line of inquiry.

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Firefighters tackle the blaze (Danny Lawson/PA)

Chief Superintendent Neil Evans said: “The moorland fire is now being investigated as arson following information from local witnesses and initial inquiries.

“The scale of this fire is exceptional and we are treating it with the utmost seriousness.

“That said, we are under no illusion that solid evidence as to where the fire started and what was the cause will not be easy to establish.”

Mr Evans added: “The areas we have been able to look include dusty ash, burnt peat and grass and because of this our work with the fire service will be painstaking.

“We recognise the incredible support that the emergency services have received and we now hope that the local community can help us further by getting in touch with any information that could help our investigation.”

The bonfire sighting was at about 7.30pm on June 24, with the fire service called out at 8.19pm.

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) interim chief officer Dawn Docx said: “Specialist fire investigation officers at Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service are working closely with Greater Manchester Police to investigate the suspected arson in the moorlands in Tameside.

“Investigations are currently ongoing with a multi-agency approach to find the source of the ignition. There is an area of interest that specialist officers are inspecting.

“Firefighters are working in extremely difficult and challenging circumstances in Tameside and I can’t praise crews enough – they’ve done a fantastic job and are continuing to work hard to put out the multiple fires across the moorlands.

“I would like to urge the public to be really careful with barbecues, discarded cigarettes and glass bottles in the countryside. Fires in the moorlands can spread rapidly so it’s important that we take extra care.”

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Soldiers from the Highlanders, 4th Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland on Saddleworth Moor (MoD)

Soldiers drafted in to help Greater Manchester firefighters tackle the Saddleworth Moor blaze will continue their temporary roles until the end of the week.

Around 100 troops from the Royal Regiment of Scotland have been involved in the operation in Tameside, including digging trenches in an effort to stop the moorland fires spreading.

On Wednesday there were 45 firefighters on the scene who were using specialist equipment and vehicles to extinguish the remaining pockets of fire, said GMFRS.

Firefighters are being supporting by two helicopters from United Utilities which are continuing to dampen down targeted areas.

GMFRS firefighters and others from around the country are also supporting colleagues from Lancashire to maintain control of a similar blaze at Winter Hill near Bolton which broke out when two moorland
fires either side of the hill merged on Saturday because of increased wind speed.

Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service said 20 crews were at Winter Hill on Wednesday as they continue to tackle smouldering areas.

A 22-year-old man arrested by Lancashire Police on suspicion of starting one of the Winter Hill fires has been released under investigation.

Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack said: “Those who start fires on purpose should feel the full force of the law.

“The people who started the moorlands fires are responsible for a catastrophe that has endangered an enormous number of people. People are having to evacuate their homes, livestock has been lost and natural beauty spots have been ravaged. Resources have been sent from fire and rescue services all across the country.”

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