HUNDREDS of acres of precious heather moorland have been destroyed in a grass fire in Stalybridge.
Around 60 firefighters were called to the fire at Hollingworth Hall moor around 2.30pm on Easter Sunday.
It took nine pumps from across Greater Manchester around four hours to get the blaze under control.
Fire service spokesman Paul Duggan said the landscape and weather caused huge problems.
“We had great difficulties with the terrain and it was also quite windy which meant the fire was spreading,” he said.
“We had to call two pumps from Derbyshire because it was heading towards their border, so we sent for them to cut it off.
“We also worked with the countryside rangers and the mountain rescue team,
“We used a helicopter to drop water on it from above and the firefighters did really well to get it under control in such a short space of time.”
Mr Duggan said the cause of the blaze, which was visible from as far afield as Middleton and Saddleworth, was not yet known but advised everybody to take precautions when out in the countryside.
“Be careful with your smoking materials, make sure they are out before you discard them. Dont have open fires either,” he said.
Countryside ranger John Courtman described the area damaged as a unique habitat.
“The moorland and peat are a very fragile eco system. Its made up of plants which have grown and fallen over thousands of years,” he said.
“In terms of wildlife, its home to invertebrate, grouse and lots of other wild bird. Grouse only eat heather and its their nesting season so some nests will have gone. Red grouse only occur in this country, they dont have them anywhere else in the world. The effect of the fire on wildlife is incredible.”
Leanne Banks, of Huddersfield Road, Millbrook, saw the fire as she was driving in Stalybridge.
“I just saw plumes of smoke coming from the tops of the hills.
“I presumed it was controlled burning but then I saw three fire engines pass by, one went down the road behind Copley school,” she said.