After the sun, the fires: Record-breaking dry spell fuels huge moorland blazes across UK

After the sun, the fires: Record-breaking dry spell fuels huge moorland blazes across UK

03 May 2011

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UK — Huge heath fires have broken out across the UK, forcing schools to close and causing major disruption on the roads.

Hundreds of firemen have been called into action as infernos raged from Sussex to the Highlands of Scotland – including the Queen’s Balmoral Estate – and Ireland.

So far, no one has died in the fires that have been fuelled by bone-dry wood and foliage and strong winds.

But forecasters have warned there won’t be any rain to ease the situation for another 24 hours.

Danger zone: Flames leapt 40 feet in the air as crews from Surrey, Berkshire and Hampshire fought ferocious blazes that came close to Broadmoor top security hospital in Crowthorne, Berkshire
Red alert: Ramblers fled for their lives as the inferno swept across dry heath and forest land in Crowthorne Woods, Berkshire, with the smoke so thick it blotted out the sun

Grampian Fire and Rescue said that the blaze on the sprawling Balmoral Estate, which is personally owned by Her Majesty The Queen, was a large wildfire with two fronts, one 200m to 300m long and the other 50m long.

Estate workers from Balmoral and other surrounding estates were also helping to tackle the blaze.

The estate covers around 20,000 hectares, just over 50,000 acres.

This map shows the location of the various fires that have sprung up in the past few days across the UK and Ireland

Hotting up: This map shows the location of the various fires that have sprung up in the past few days across the UK and Ireland

In Berkshire, three schools were closed today as fires continued to cause problems near the Broadmoor psychiatric hospital.

The blazes broke out just before 1pm yesterday, causing severe traffic disruption towards the south of Bracknell Forest and particularly around the Crowthorne area.

Around 100 firemen were called to tackle the blaze just half a mile from the top-security psychiatric hospital.

Fierce flames were whipped up by strong winds as two separate blazes took hold – one covering an area of one square mile. The fires have since spread to four areas, police said.

Roads were closed and hundreds of residents were advised to keep their windows shut because of the dense smoke.

Broadmoor itself is surrounded by woodland. It was believed the fire started at a saw mill in Swinley, Ascot, last week and travelled underground through peat, emerging in two places in Swinley Forest yesterday afternoon.

Crews remained at the scene in South Ascot, where the flames were now under control.

A spokesman for the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service said the second fire had been contained in an area measuring 300m by 300m surrounded by tracks. The cause of the fire was being investigated.

A helicopter tackles the fire at Ogden Moor, West Yorkshire. The fire was fuelled by high winds and the recent dry weather

Schools closed include Edgbarrow Secondary School, Crowthorne C of E Primary School and Wildmoor Heath Primary School. The Look Out Discovery Centre and Coral Reef Waterworld are also shut, Thames Valley Police said.

Fires also raged in other areas of England. More than 100 firefighters tackled three fires spanning several square miles on Lancashire moorland near Belmont, Bacup and Ormskirk.

Ogden Moor in West Yorkshire was also ablaze yesterday.

Another 40 battled a 15 acre forest blaze near Petworth in West Sussex last night. It was thought 30 per cent of the undergrowth in the Bedham forest had been destroyed.

Heathland fires were also still raging across parts of the Scottish Highlands and Ireland.

In the Scottish Highlands, firefighters tackled two wildfires which have been raging since the holiday weekend.

At Shiel Bridge three properties were evacuated last night as the flames advanced.

Today, 22 firefighters were at the scene and there were plans to use helicopters later to dampen the blaze.

Nine firefighters are still at the scene of a blaze in Torridon, which has been burning since Sunday afternoon.

Yesterday, Stornoway Coastguard rescued seven people and a dog after the wildfires swept parts of the Highlands.
The forest fire is only a few hundred yards from top security Broadmoor Hospital in Crowthorne, Berkshire, seen here in the foreground

This picture shows the fire from the other side as it approaches Broadmoor

The coastguard helicopter Rescue 100 was scrambled to airlift two walkers at 2.20pm yesterday after they became trapped in fires on Liathach in the Torridon mountain range.

Once they had been rescued, another four people and a dog were found and rescued before the helicopter was diverted to another area to check for more walkers.

The Mallaig RNLI lifeboat also saved a 27-year-old woman whose campsite had been encircled by fires in the remote western tip of the Ardnish Peninsula, Loch Ailort.
A West Yorkshire fire service helicopter battles a moorland fire near Wainstalls, Halifax, that has been burning for around four days

A West Yorkshire fire service helicopter battles a moorland fire near Wainstalls, Halifax, that has been burning for around four days

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 added.

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

In Ireland, three Air Corps helicopters and more than 100 troops wearing specialist suits have been tackling wildfires in the north-west of the country.
Heath fires in Kintail in the north-west Highlands, seen here glowing dramatically at night, sadly reached some of the National Trust For Scotland’s forest regeneration plantations

Desperate measures: A helicopter drops water as fires rage across the hillside at Sheil Bridge, west of Loch Ness

The Defence Forces said operations were focusing on the Dungloe area of Co Donegal, where significant progress has been made.

Paul Knightley, a forecaster from MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said it was unlikely to rain until tomorrow evening at the earliest.

He said: ‘We’re not expecting any rain in the next 24 hours. There’s an area of high pressure over the north of the country.

‘Tomorrow night it looks like some showery rain will start to edge into Northern Ireland and it might start to edge into Scotland on Thursday morning.’

The forecaster said both Scotland and Northern Ireland had just two-thirds of the rain it would normally expect in April.

With 1.7in (43mm) falling across Scotland, it was 68 per cent of the normal rainfall, and the 1.5in (38mm) in Northern Ireland was 66 per cent of normal levels.

Last month was the hottest April on record in England and Wales, Mr Knightley said.

Rainfall was just 21 per cent of the expected levels, and the average temperature was the hottest since records began 353 years ago.

Meanwhile, the Environment Agency fears the continuing dry weather could have an adverse impact on wildlife, including fish and plant life in and around rivers and lakes where water levels are low.

The sunshine has also sparked an invasion of ants. Armies of the insects, encouraged by the warm spring weather, have descended on homes across Britain in search of food and water. Wildlife experts say ant populations have been boosted by the cold winter.



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