World News

Hills Ablaze Above Manchester as UK Wildfire Rages for 4th Day

Posted June 27, 2018 1:50 p.m. EDT

LONDON — A wildfire raged for a fourth day through dry grassland to the east of Manchester in the north of England on Wednesday, as Britain sweated through one of its hottest and driest summers on record.

The blaze started Sunday on Saddleworth Moor, an expanse of hills cloaked in purple heather that is popular with hikers and home to bird species including the endangered golden plover and curlew and the common red grouse. It has since spread over an area of 7 square miles, and firefighters have requested help from the military.

“It’s dry as a tinderbox up there,” said Brenda Warrington, leader of Tameside Council at a news briefing in the early afternoon. “A lot of wind is fanning the flames.” She said the situation was very changeable because wind had risen again in the area since the morning.

Smoke from the fire could be smelled drifting over Greater Manchester, one of the largest urban areas in Britain.

Southern parts of Europe have seen large expanses of dry forests ablaze during hot summer months in recent years, but large wildfires rarely hit Britain.

“The scale of this fire is unprecedented, and we believe it may be the biggest in living memory,” Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association, which works on preserving the highly prized landscapes, said in a statement, adding that gamekeepers who cultivated grouse on the moor for shooting had usually kept the risk under control.

“Keepers are acutely aware of the risk of wildfire at this time of year and are used to dealing with fires quickly,” she said.

More than 100 firefighters were at work with a total of 29 engines, according to a statement from Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, which said it had help from neighboring fire services and a helicopter from the local water company.

Dave Keelan, the service’s assistant chief fire officer, said in the statement: “We have been liaising with a military adviser on the scene and following those discussions we have requested military assistance from the Ministry of Defense and those discussions are ongoing.”

Another fire service spokesman, Leon Parkes, said at the briefing that the fire was in four different areas of moorland, and embedded in peat, making it extremely hard to extinguish.

Officials said they were hoping for heavy rain, but the long-term forecast was not promising, suggesting at least 10 more days of warm, dry weather.

According to the fire service, 34 homes were evacuated as a precaution Tuesday, with residents allowed back Wednesday. Four schools were closed Wednesday, however, because of concerns about smoke.

Britain has been in drought conditions for the better part of two months, with temperatures regularly reaching 86 degrees Fahrenheit — well above average — and nearing records in some areas, especially in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The unusually dry and hot weather prompted a health warning in Manchester, where heat wave conditions were expected to continue.

Britain has 75 percent of the heather moorlands in the world, according to the Moorland Association. The fire has so far destroyed some 2,000 acres of Saddleworth Moor, The Associated Press reported.