Smithills Fire – An update
You have probably seen the news about the wildfires currently hitting several parts of the country. Unfortunately one of those locations is the Woodland Trust Smithills Estate.
Two separate fires were reported on Thursday 28th and Friday 29th at opposite ends of the Smithills Estate. These two fires merged together on Saturday 30th June and became a major incident as they surrounded the Winter Hill television mast, the highest communications mast of its kind in England.
We estimate one fifth of the Smithills Estate has been burnt. This figure will likely rise as we assess the damage once the fire is over. Nearly all of this is moorland and upland grassland, but some of the new Northern Forest trees have sadly also been lost.
This habitat is special on the site and is home to many species such as curlew and long-eared owl’s. The damage done will have displaced birds that were coming to an end of their breeding season and destroyed reptiles, invertebrates and flora.
The Woodland Trust has been working with the emergency services since Thursday 29th. Initially this was providing maps and local knowledge to fire crews who turned up from Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, South Wales and elsewhere. When the fire really took hold we sent the diggers that we had been using to create our new car park onto the moor to dig trenches to stop the fire from creeping forward towards our residents.
The Smithills volunteers came instantly and have been helping United Utilities to man roads to prevent onlookers from ‘coming to see what has happened (sometimes with their children!)’. The burn area is currently estimated at 18 square kilometers and is therefore still a large and dangerous area. No members of the public are allowed onto site except if authorised.
Volunteers have also been fire watching to check for new fires/ old fires reigniting. In this situation, the underground peat has also caught light and can keep burning when the surface fire has been extinguished. So if the wind blows in the right way, it can cause fires to start again.
Our biggest achievement is the helicopter that the Woodland Trust has organised to aid the United Utilities helicopter by dropping water from local reservoirs onto the fire. Our helicopter has the best fuel efficiency of any and it can fly for a solid 6 hours – a huge help to the emergency services.
A change in wind direction has been forecast, meaning that it will blow from the north down the valley onto the Smithills Estates and this may mean that fires spread again. So this is an ongoing situation that still has potential to endanger property, homes and lives.
There is a lot in the press about the strong potential for these fires to have been caused deliberately as an act of arson. We will need to make sure we include this in our assessment of how we protect trees and woods.
Many thanks for everyone’s efforts