London (AFP) – Firefighters on Wednesday battled a rare large wildfire near Manchester in northern England which has led to the evacuation of dozens of homes.
Police have declared the fire, which is still spreading across moorland to the east of the city, a “major incident” and said the army is on standby to step in.
Around 10 fire engines and 50 firefighters are tackling the blaze at Saddleworth Moor, according to Leon Parkes, assistant chief fire officer with Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service.
“Fire crews have been working in tremendously difficult conditions in the heat, smoke, working with our partner agencies,” he said.
“A number of actions were put in place including the evacuation of nearby houses because of the spread of the fire.”
Parkes added that reports indicate the fire was six kilometres (four miles) long — an unusually large wildfire for Britain, where they are rare events.
“We’ve got lots of experience with dealing with moor fires,” he said.
“But this particular incident is vast — it’s presented some real challenges.”
The blaze broke out on Sunday and reignited Monday amid a period of sustained hot weather across Britain.
Greater Manchester Police said 34 homes have been evacuated so far as strong winds drive the flames closer to residential areas.
No injuries have been reported, but people living nearby have been advised to keep windows and doors closed by health officials and two schools will be closed on Wednesday.
Smoke has spread for miles, darkening skies above swathes of Greater Manchester, one of the most populated areas in Britain.
Nearby resident Dee Blanchard, 28, told the Manchester Evening News she had placed damp towels around the windows and doors in her home.
“It’s getting a bit frightening,” she said, adding nobody was venturing out and firefighters had warned the neighbourhood may need to be evacuated.
Parkes, the assistant fire chief, said his service planned “a heavy attack on this fire” on Wednesday by deploying additional resources.
“If that needs military assistance, that’s what we’ll consider,” he added.
The cause of the fire has not been established, Parkes said.