A number of fires in the Saddleworth Moors near Dovestone Reservoir have been due to arson, police and fire say. Greater Manchester Police have sent a strong message to those who purposefully cause damage to the countryside and pose a risk to residents and emergency service workers – that they will be prosecuted.
Late last night (July 18) a fire was started in the moors by a disposable BBQ in a ‘thoughtless and irresponsible’ act. This was the latest in a series of fires around Dovestone Reservoir, some accidental, but some started deliberately by ‘accelerants’.
The fires have been made more likely, and also much worse, due to the hot and dry conditions, with record temperatures recorded of nearly 40C over the last two days. Greater Manchester Police and Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue held a joint press conference today to appeal to the public to not have BBQs and be extra careful when dropping litter, especially cigarettes, that could start fires which spread rapidly. Police also vowed to catch anyone deliberately starting fires, and urged the public to come forward with any information they may have about this.
Superintendent Phillip Hutchinson, of GMP Oldham district, and Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service group manager James Willmott, spoke at Dovestone Reservoir as the firefighters continued to tackle the blaze started by the BBQ, and many swam and jumped into the reservoir. Local officers spoke to the public there to talk to them of the risk of open water swimming and wildfires as the senior officers told the Manchester Evening News that some of the fires over recent days were ‘deliberate’.
SupInt Hutchinson said: “I want to reassure members of the public we are following every line of inquiry to find those responsible and they will face justice. This is being treated as arson which, following conviction, can result in a lengthy prison sentence.”
“As well as being criminal, it goes without saying that this behaviour is reckless and could have a devastating impact on the land, the wildlife and local residents – something we have seen before.”
He added: “There were a number of deliberate fires so we have a number of investigations ongoing. This impacts the community so much.
“We really want to bring people to justice for this. We want to tell people who do this if you’re going to commit these crimes there is a strong possibility you will be caught.
“Saddleworth Moor is currently subject to a Public Space Protection Order and, thus, the ignition of any kind of flame – including but not limited to barbecues – is a criminal offence. This includes the disposal of lit cigarettes. Breaching the order can result in a one thousand pound fine.”
Mr Willmott added: “It beggars belief. It’s hard to understand why someone would want to do this.
“These fires can move much faster than you can run so the danger is very very real. I can’t overstate this enough.
“We’ve had three serious fires but unfortunately had a number of other smaller but significant incidents involving fires started accidentally through dropped cigarettes and this pulls away resources from other areas. Please respect the public space protection orders (PSPO) and don’t bring BBQs and be careful with cigarettes and other litter.”
Both expressed frustrations at fires returning to the moorland, despite repeated warnings and incidents over many years where acres of land have been destroyed.
Mr Willmott added: “The land is tinder dry and is ready to go so we would urge people to not drop litter.
“While we were dealing with the fire last night we could see three more which is really hard for us to deal with. We’ve been here for over 24 hours.
“Our greatest frustration around this message is that it’s not complex. In conditions like this dropping something like a cigarette could cause a wildfire which is very dangerous. We work so hard to get the message out there but we see this every year.”
SupInt Hutchinson confirmed that, working with the fire service, many pieces of evidence had been found from the deliberate fires, and updates on their investigation should be issued in the coming days.