Farmers have joined firefighters to tackle a massive grassland fire on Saddleworth Moor near Manchester.

The blaze consumed 325ha of grass and destroyed up to 50,000 trees on Friday (10 April).

Fire crews, mountain rescue teams and the volunteer band of helpers battled for six hours to bring it under control.

See also: Bonfire blamed for straw stack fire

Farmers and fire crews tackle the blaze

©Oldham Evening Chronicle

It was described by the fire service as the worst on the moor for almost a decade. Flames, sparks and vast plumes of smoke, carried by strong winds, could be seen for miles around.

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

“There were six or seven of them. They were in a group and when the flames took hold they ran off.

“I couldn’t chase them as the fire was moving very quickly, fanned by the strong winds. I had to try to put out the flames,” Mr Crowther said. 

He and his three children were supported by farmers, gamekeepers and conservationists who answered his call for help.

“We just couldn’t get in front of the fire,” he said.

“We were chasing after it. Flames reached 30ft into the air at one point. And with the grass being so dry, everything simply ignited in its path.”

Fire engines at the scene

©Oldham Evening Chronicle

Five fire engines from Tameside and Oldham were joined later by five more engines from stations across Greater Manchester.

Firefighters tackled the sprawling area in sectors and specialist vehicles and equipment helped 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.

The team were praised by the fire services and Mick Nield, their leader, said: “The fire formed intense flame funnels. If we hadn’t stopped it in its tracks it could have set the peat ablaze which could have been even worse.”

Mr Crowther was left to count the cost of the mass destruction on the blackened hillsides.

He recently planted a forest of assorted trees including ash and silver birch which, along with wildlife, perished in the fire: “Lots of ground-nesting birds and hares have been killed,” he added.

“I was hoping to restart a forest that used to exist here in the 1400s, but those plans have been put back now. But I’d like to thank everyone who helped out. It was great teamwork.”

Smoke rises over the moor

©Oldham Evening Chronicle