Greater Manchester fire chiefs have joined forces with neighbouring fire and rescue services to urge people to stay safe while out enjoying the countryside.
The reminder about staying safe while enjoying time outdoors and about the devastation moorland fires cause comes from Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) and Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service (LFRS) as schools break up and the Easter bank holiday weekend approaches.
Both fire and rescue services, and the people of Greater Manchester and Lancashire, remember all too well the destruction caused by moorland fires in the summer of 2018, when large blazes ripped across miles of countryside bringing the areas to a standstill.
GMFRS’ Area Manager Paul Duggan, Head of Prevention, said: “The memories of the moorland fires in 2018 remain fresh in the mind of everyone involved, from our firefighters who worked incredibly hard to put the fires out, to the residents who were forced from their homes.
“Moorland and wildfires can be started in a number of ways. Sadly, many fires in the countryside are started deliberately, however, some can break out by people being careless with barbecues, campfires or not disposing of cigarettes properly.
“Our message is strong and clear - never have a barbecue or campfire on the moors or start a fire deliberately wherever you are in the UK. Many people think it’s just the flame from a barbecue that sets the moorland on fire, but it’s actually the heat from the disposable barbecue that often sets peat and dry moorland alight.”
Groups of up to six people or two households can now meet outdoors in line with the latest government guidance to minimise the spread of Covid-19.
Although coronavirus finds it much more difficult to spread outdoors compared to indoors, the fire service is still reminding people to keep two metres apart at all times and wash their hands regularly for 20 seconds if gathering with friends over the Easter weekend.
Area Manager Duggan added: “We understand that people want to spend time outdoors – especially as we see warmer weather and lighter nights arrive - but we all need to keep doing our bit to stop the spread of Covid-19.
“Government advice is for people to minimise domestic travel as the ‘stay at home’ rule ends. We want to reinforce that message and ask people to consider if making a long journey is necessary before heading to the countryside in a different area. Not only will this help minimise the spread of coronavirus, it could also prevent wildfires from breaking out.
“I’m sure all of our residents will welcome the opportunity to meet with their family and friends again this weekend – I certainly do – but let’s keep each other safe and keep getting out of this lockdown by remembering hands, face, space, fresh air.”
Over the Easter weekend, GMFRS’ fire crews and volunteers will be spending time in areas at high risk from wildfires – such as in Oldham and Tameside. They will be talking with members of the public about preventing wildfires and the impacts of incidents such as moorland fires have.
People are also reminded that Public Spaces Protection Orders are in place in Oldham and Tameside banning fires and barbecues on the land across Saddleworth, Crompton and Marsden moors.
Anyone found lighting a fire, barbecue, or other objects such as fireworks and sky lanterns, will be given a fixed penalty notice of £100, or face prosecution.
Fire chiefs are reminding people that, as well as cause disruption to communities, moorland fires destroy the food that lots of wildlife need to survive and have a huge impact on the birds and animals that make the moors their home.
The moors also play a key role in the fight against climate change - losing large areas of peat and vegetation releases carbon into the atmosphere.
They have also issued some safety advice for people when enjoying the great outdoors, which is:
• Never take a barbecue on the moors or to the countryside - it poses a huge risk of fire, is a risk to the environment and ties up our firefighters who may be needed for other serious incidents
• Always extinguish your cigarette and any other smoking materials properly. Never throw your cigarette butt out of your car window - it could ruin whole fields of crops
• Don't leave bottles or glass in woodlands. Sunlight shining through the glass can start large fires. Take them home or put them in the waste or recycling bin
• Never start a fire of any kind - it may seem a good idea at the time, but a fire in the open can easily get out of control
• If you see a fire in the countryside, report it immediately. Don't attempt to tackle fires that can't be put out with a bucket of water. Leave the area as soon as possible and dial 999.
More outdoor safety advice can be found at https://manchesterfire.gov.uk/staying-safe/what-we-do/seasonal-safety/countryside-safety-advice/
Fire crews tackling a moorland blaze in June 2020. Photo: Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service.