Saddleworth Moors blackened by worst fire for nearly a decade

A 30 foot high wall of flames rampaged across Saddleworth hills, destroying a newly-planted forest and decimating wildlife.

Eight hundred acres of grassland and up to 50,000 trees were consumed by the blaze, which fire crews, mountain rescue teams and volunteers battled for six hours.

The fire – the worse on Saddleworth Moor for nearly a decade – began a thousand feet up at Alderman rocks near hugely popular beauty spot Dovestone Reservoir in Greenfield.

Flames, sparks and plumes of smoke carried by strong winds could be seen for miles around.

The alarm was raised after farmer Chris Crowther, 57, spotted a group of youngsters start the fire.

“There were about six or seven of them,” he said. “When the flames took hold they just ran off.

“I couldn’t chase after them as the fire was moving very quickly, fanned by strong winds. I had to get on with the job of trying to put out the flames.”

Chris and his three children were supported by band of farmers, game keepers and conversationalists who rallied to his call.

“Flames reached 30 feet into the air at one point. With the grass being so dry, everything simply ignited in its path,” added Chris.

“In fact, the blaze was so intense my son Chris had his hair singed.”

Hundreds of visitors sharing an Easter holiday break in the area watched the drama play out from a distance after fire fighters advised them to stay clear of Dovestone.

Five fire engines from Tameside and Oldham rushed to the scene and were joined later by five appliances from across Greater Manchester.

The sprawling area of grassland was split into sectors for crews to tackle the blaze and specialist vehicles and equipment were used to help bring the fire under control.

A 14-strong squad from Oldham Mountain Rescue Team helped to transport firefighters, equipment and water along narrow tracks to cut the fire off before it reached highly-volatile peat on top of the hills.

The team received praise from the fire services and Mick Nield, their leader, said: “The fire formed intense flame funnels – some 50 feet high.

“My concerns were preventing flames reaching the top of the moor. If we hadn’t stopped it, it could have set the peat ablaze which could have been even worse.”

The fire crews made a base at Holmfirth Road and station manager Phil Nelson said: “We worked alongside Mountain Rescue, who helped transport firefighters to the scene of the blaze.

“The firefighters found a water supply on the moor and made good progress in tough conditions.”

The Clarence pub at Greenfield laid on free food for all the grateful volunteers.

But now farmer Chris is still counting the cost of the destruction on the blackened hillsides, including the loss of his recently-planted forest of assorted trees.

“Lots of ground nesting birds and hares have been destroyed,” he said. “I was hoping to re-start a forest that used to exist here in the 1400s but those plans have been put back now.

“But I’d like thank everyone who helped out. It was great team work.”

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