We’ve never considered that we live in a high risk area for any natural disasters - big or small. There have on occasions been earthquakes – very, very small earthquakes reaching the dizzy heights of 2 or 3 on the Richter scale. I think I remember once that somewhere local had a tiny little tornado which knocked a few bins over, but on the whole we live in a relatively sheltered (by the Pennines) area which probably doesn’t feature highly on any emergency planning list. How strange it has been this week to find one of our local areas propelled to national stardom for what has been declared a ‘major’ incident.
Winter Hill, visible to most people around our end of Lancashire/Greater Manchester and instantly recognisable from the television mast which sits atop it. Popular with walkers, runners and cyclists – families out for day trips, horse riders, dog walkers and if it snows it’s the first place most people go with their sledge! Visit Rivington on any Sunday or bank holiday and you’ll find the car parks of the local barn full of motorbikes old and new. The view from the pike stretches for miles and on a clear day you will not only see the towns of Wigan, Bolton and Chorley but in the distance you will make out familiar landmarks of Manchester city centre, Liverpool, Blackpool and even the hills of Wales. Walk further up to the transmitters and the view is breathtaking, literally, as even on our clear day, it is almost always breezy! Indeed it’s only a couple of months since we ventured up to the masts for one of our Sunday strolls (see below).
2018 has already produced the longest heatwave most of us can remember. Glorious blue skies every day since late May, wall to wall sunshine, high temperatures (stuffy nights…) and as a result parched, dry grass and moorlands posing an ever increasing risk of fire.
During the last week of a June a moorland fire broke out on Saddleworth Moors – about 25 miles East of where we live - visible across most of Manchester and beyond creating a plume of smoke NASA could photograph from space. Before this was under control the already stretched fire services then had to contend with a second fire breaking out on Winter Hill just west of Bolton and which dominates the view from our bedroom window – about 8 miles away. Without any let up in the weather both fires soon grew out of control and both were declared major incidents with hundreds of firefighters and dozens of engines and helicopters involved.
The plumes of smoke from the fires have filled our skies morning and evening for almost a week now. Thankfully for us the wind has never blown the smoke towards us although at times the smell of burning has been overpowering and we have awoken most mornings coughing. And it has been a bit surreal to be able to watch a national news story live from the comfort of your bedroom!
We are at least 8 miles away from Winter Hill and can only imagine the impact the fires are having on the affected areas and particularly on the fire service supported by colleagues from across the country and members of our armed forces. They are working tirelessly to get the situation under control in appalling conditions.
Uncomfortably, the smoke has proven irresistible to photograph. Beautiful and hypnotising- stretching for miles and miles around our local area and when the sun begins to set behind the smoke clouds the colours of the sky are once again breathtaking – purples, reds, yellows and a bright pink sun. We have kept our distance and photographed with a long lens but in this world of people feeling it is their right to get the best shot it has not been surprising that the police have had to issue warnings to drone pilots hampering the helicopters and even had to rescue a member of the public who managed to get close to the fires (after ignoring the Police and Fire Service cordon) then collapsed with smoke inhalation problems!
As this is being written the smoke in our area has disappeared or at least decreased, so maybe the work of the fire crews is beginning to have an impact, but it will need a really good downpour to do the job properly as peat can stay burning under ground for a long time. So whilst we’ve got a proper summer this year I’m sure a lot of people won’t be too sorry to have some rain soon but until then lets be thankful we have dedicated professionals trying to contain the situation and leave them to do what needs to be done.
Life and other