The Winter Hill wildfire of summer 2018 cost the county dearly, but in true Lancashire spirit, partners and communities rallied to support firefighters as they battled. 

The blaze, near Bolton, originally began as two separate fires, fought by Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service and Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue on either side of the hill. However, two days later, increased winds speeds accelerated both, merging them into one. 

The wildfire, recorded as being started deliberately, also coincided with a prolonged heatwave, and parched grass allowed the fire to burn intensely and escalate rapidly. A major incident was declared, and the ensuing operation was supported by 40 partners. 

The 41-day blaze took 983 fire engines and nearly 20,000 man hours to put out. 

As custodians of much of the land, United Utilities, together with the Woodland Trust and the National Air Police Service, chartered  helicopters to drop 397,000 litres of water in 397 trips onto the fire, directed by firefighters on the ground. 

At the height of the incident, 30 fire engines and 150 firefighters joined forces, supported by multiple partners, specialist wildfire fighting teams and fire and rescue services from other areas of the country. 

Firefighters used beaters to extinguish the flames together with water sprays, but they were well away from hydrants and standing water, with reservoirs some distance away in the surrounding valleys. Therefore high-volume pumps and kilometres of hoses were used to take water from reservoirs, with water tankers, including farmers’ slurry tanks adapted to carry water, reaching other parts of the fire ground. 

Drone Image

Throughout, Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service’s drone was used to overfly the area, giving firefighters a vital aerial perspective of the fire and equipping them with thermal maps of the peat fires burning under the surface, revealed by infra-red photography. 

The incident ground spanned around 18 square kilometres of moorland - but as a result of this monumental combined effort, the fire was contained to approximately eight square kilometres. 

After six weeks of firefighting the stop message was finally sent. 

Those involved worked long hours in extremely hot and difficult conditions but remained undeterred, avoiding threats to life and property, and protecting the vital TV transmitter at the top of the hill that serves which serves six million people in the North West. 

This unprecedented incident is estimated to have cost the county £1.2 million, but without the professional support of partner agencies, the price could have been much higher. During the incident and in the aftermath, messages of support and donated supplies were received from all corners of the local community, providing a welcome boost to morale. 

Despite the devastation this moorland fire caused, the way in which everyone pulled together is something of which Lancashire can be rightfully proud. 

Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service Group Manager, Liam Wilson, reflects on how this enormous collaborative effort prevented an even bigger catastrophe…

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