We need a significant downpour to douse Saddleworth Moor blaze, says fire chief

PA

Exhausted firefighters will be helped by 100 soldiers as they battle a moorland blaze which fire chiefs said may last for weeks as the scorching weather continues.

The troops from the 4th Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland, will join more than 100 firefighters who have been working rolling 12-hour shifts to tackle the seven square miles of Saddleworth Moor, smouldering with pockets of fire since Sunday.

An RAF Chinook is also on stand-by should Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) request helicopter help to airlift heavy equipment to the high ground.

Winter weather March 5th 2018
Winter weather March 5th 2018

But Assistant Chief Fire Officer Tony Hunter, giving an update to reporters as troops readied for deployment, said what they needed most to end the blaze was rain - but none has been forecast.

He said: "We have not seen an indication of any rain coming within the next couple of days stroke weeks, so we can see this being prolonged for days, if not weeks.

"It is dependent on a downpour of rain - and it would have to be a significant downpour of rain because it is so dry it would be absorbed very, very quickly.

"If there is a change in wind to the opposite direction, it is a completely different picture then in terms of the fuel available to this fire."

Saddleworth Moor fire
Saddleworth Moor fire

Mr Hunter said the firefront has widened to two to two-and-a-half miles (3km-4km), in six different locations, and if the wind blows the flames back on to the moors it will act as a "fuel source" for the fire.

Firefighters had been working until dusk on Wednesday night and, as it was too dangerous to go on the moors at night while it is on fire, an assessment at first light showed there was no "significant increase".

My thanks to the 100 members of our Armed Forces who are playing a vital role supporting @manchesterfire responding to the Saddleworth fire - no matter the time, no matter the place, and no matter the situation they are always willing and ready to step up in our time of need https://t.co/ToGXRgJNo2

-- Gavin Williamson MP (@GavinWilliamson) June 27, 2018

RAF Wing Commander Tony Lane said: "We are here in support of the fire and rescue; there is a finite number of people, they were here yesterday, they have been here for a number of days, so it is actually providing a group of individuals that can provide support.

"We will make sure the soldiers are working alongside the fire and rescue personnel so they are going to be pairing up together.

"I think we are looking at one firefighter to three or four troops, so they can provide extra manpower to go and support them."

Saddleworth Moor fire
Saddleworth Moor fire

Mr Hunter said the soldiers' help would allow the service to keep other fire stations and engines available to deal with emergency calls as the moorland blaze continues

He thanked local residents and businesses who had provided refreshments to officers and asked the public to "be aware" of the smoke and local conditions, keep access routes free for emergency services vehicles and stay away from where they are working.

If the fire worsens, GMFRS will be able to an on-call out an RAF Chinook helicopter, based at RAF Odiham in Hampshire.

It would be used to lift a high-volume pump, capable of pumping 7,000 litres of water a minute, to pump water up on to the moors.

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