8July 2005


FIRE roared through fields andwoodland at Halton-Lea-Gate near Haltwhistle on Saturday.

 The blaze broke out shortlyafter 6pm, damaging 350 acres of countryside in eight hours, as six local firecrews rallied round.

 And with fears that a gas piperunning below the ground could explode, Haydon Bridge High School was put onstandby as an emergency evacuation centre.

 No-one was reported to havebeen hurt in the fire, which happened 24 hours after contractors burningbranches and leaves on behalf of Wessex Woodland Management had left the scene.

 Wessex Woodland Management’sdirector David Hunt said: “The idea of the work is to reinstate the heather,to harvest the woodland.

 “We have to wait for theconditions to be right for this work to be carried out, as it involves rakingbranches and suchlike into heaps and setting fire to them.

 “The work has been going onfor three weeks because the land has been damp and the conditions have beenright.

 “The workers left on Fridayevening, after ensuring that all the fires were out. But there must have beensome smouldering in the peat.

 “It did cause a lot of alarmand we are very sorry for that. We went to visit as many people in the villageto apologise and everybody was understanding.”

Fears about the gas pipe were allayed after emergency services and WessexWoodland Management liaised with utilities company Transco, which confirmedthere was no danger of the pipe exploding.

 There was no need to evacuateany of the houses, although it is believed that some farm animals were evacuated.

 Leaside resident andHartleyburn parish councillor Joyce Watson said: “My window looks out on towhere it was burning.

 “It burnt really fiercely allnight, and now it’s just a black charred mess.

 “I have lived here for 50years, and have never seen anything like it.”

 Hexham Fire Station officer KenSimpson said two crews from Hexham were required, along with those fromHaltwhistle, Haydon Bridge, Allendale and Brampton.

 He said: “We spoke to Transcoto get advice on the size and depth of the gas pipe, and on any potentialdangers.

 “Weused a police helicopter to give us an aerial view to see which way the fire wasspreading, and discovered that a road was a natural fire break.”


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