Aftermath of moor fire will be felt for years

Ilkley Gazette:

THE blaze that has devastated much of Ilkley Moor will leave a lasting impression not only on the moor but on the people who live and work around it.

Initial studies by council officers predicted it could take anywhere from four to 20 years for the moor to recover the final judgment was left in the hands of English Nature experts yesterday.

Much of the area burned was covered with heather, bushes and moorland grasses, plus their associated insect life. Ironically, the much-despised bracken on the moor may have actually helped halt the flames.

The fire service was first alerted to the fire by a caller on Addingham Moorside who spotted smoke rising last Wednesday afternoon.

Fire crews were unable to take their fire engines all the way to the scene of the fire, and had to battle the blaze by walking to the scene of the fire, with portable water tanks and beaters.

The fire appeared to have died down by Wednesday night, but flared up again on Thursday morning, this time taking hold of a much larger area of moorland. By the end of the afternoon, the billowing clouds of smoke were almost blotting out the sun, turning the sky red over Wharfedale.

Many people took to the moor to see for themselves what was happening, armed with camera phones.

And as the sun began to set, people living further afield in Guiseley and Yeadon captured images of an artificially red sunset, as light still struggled to get through the smoke cloud.

Smoke was reported as far away as Bradford, and drifted across Ilkley and other parts of Wharfedale as the moor continued to smoulder this week, peat still burning on the ground.

Keighley's station commander, Damian Brown, said it was the largest moorland fire he had been involved in fighting.

"It's been a very difficult fire to extinguish," he said. "It was probably about two square miles that was affected, it was a huge area. There are no roads and very little access for firefighting equipment."

Local farmers and workers from the Bingley Estate helped out, lending vehicles to ferry water across the moor, and joining in with beaters to tackle the fire. Yorkshire Water also lent a water tanker.

The fire service eventually connected up a water relay of hoses between engines, to bring water across to the fire from water mains on the south side of the moor.

Mr Brown said: "What we were trying to do was surround the fire, which was difficult. Just as it seemed we'd got around the fire, it went off in another direction. We were chasing it around a bit."

He said flames leapt up to six feet in the air. Firefighters wearing beating apparatus also battled to stop the fire jumping across the Keighley Road track across the moor.

A dry stone wall to the northern side of the moor is also being credited with preventing the fire spreading towards Silver Wells Cottage and beyond in the direction of homes on Panorama Drive. As the fire spread to this side of the moor, Bradford Council drafted in a helicopter to pick up reservoir water and drop it on to the fire.

Bradford Council environment chief Councillor Anne Hawkesworth, says a special event will be held at the Winter Garden next week to thank all those who helped fight the fire.

Council countryside officers say the first stage of recovery will probably be to leave the moor for a while, in the hope that the landscape will quickly begin to regenerate itself, with new plants taking root.

In the hot spots' where the worst damage has taken place, however, the countryside department may have to re-seed the land with new plants.

Some areas of the moor are reduced to ash, where even the peat has been burned away from the ground. The impact on both plants and wildlife is still being assessed.

Reptiles such a lizards are unlikely to have escaped the fire, and many wild deer, rabbits and other mammals will have been able to get out of harm's way, the loss of plant life means it could be years before animals return to graze on some parts of the moor.

Countryside officers found the nests of moorland birds have been destroyed.

Council officer, Richard Perham, said: "It is quite late in the nesting season, it could have been much worse."

As well as damaging some of the most ecologically sensitive parts of the moor, the fire has also effectively removed the option of allowing grouse shooting on the moor to raise cash. The land was also used for grazing livestock.

Farmer Richard Ellis, whose family has enjoyed grazing rights on Ilkley Moor for generations, will directly suffer from the destruction.

He said: "This will affect my livelihood. I graze my animals on there and the heather will take a while to grow back."

Mr Ellis was one of many local people who joined firefighters from across the district to fight the blaze. He used beaters to tackle the fire, and a quad bike to patrol the fire's perimeter to halt its spread since it sparked up on Wednesday.

English Heritage, meanwhile was to carry out an inspection yesterday to see if the fire had uncovered any previously undiscovered Neolithic stones which will need to be preserved.

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