Berkshire

Swinley Forest fire crews step up battle

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Media captionThe blaze has ripped through Swinley Forest

Fire crews have scaled up resources for another day battling a forest fire in Berkshire - the largest blaze in the county's history, fire chiefs said.

Fires have raged in Swinley Forest, near Ascot and Bracknell, since Monday.

Berkshire fire service had crews in 10 engines working at the site overnight but scaled up resources to 100 firefighters in 20 engines at 0500 BST.

A spokesman said that about 50 more firefighters had also been called up to help the effort.

He said: "Inroads are being made into this fire but as the hot weather continues it's still causing a problem."

Image caption Fires have been burning since Monday

The fire service said the blaze had exceeded the scale of the 1992 Windsor Castle fire, in terms of resources deployed.

Dry peat has been burning underground and about 200 firefighters from seven county forces have been using hoses to dampen down "hot spots" more than 300 hectares (740 acres).

The fire service said torrential rainfall was needed for about a week "without stopping" for the fire to be put out.

Water has been drawn from a lake at Sandhurst Military Academy in an attempt to double the capacity of water available for fire crews.

Meanwhile, residents and workers evacuated from nearby houses and businesses have been told they will not be allowed back for the "foreseeable future" unless there is considerable rain.

The Met Office has forecast the area will have to wait until at least Saturday for wet weather but warned significant rainfall was unlikely.

'Packed photos'

Resident Simone Hutchinson said she could see the smoke "billowing over" before being given 10 minutes to leave her wooden home with her partner and two young sons.

Image caption Firefighters have been dampening down "hot spots" in the ground

"I panicked for seven of those 10 minutes and in the remaining three I packed photos and some kids clothes which I left at home anyway."

The 2,600-acre (1,052-hectare) forest contains conifer pine trees that are managed as timber crop and the woodland is also part of a Special Protection Area (SPA) for three rare birds - Dartford warblers, woodlarks and nightjars.

Earlier Olaf Baars, deputy chief fire officer, said crews would be on site for weeks, adding it was the "largest fire that Berkshire has ever dealt with".

He said that while the fire was smaller than other forest fires burning in the UK, it was the only one close to a built-up area, including the high-security Broadmoor Hospital and the Devil's Highway.

But he said he believed the fire would soon be contained.

Two teenagers have been bailed after they were arrested on suspicion of arson by police investigating the fire.

Thames Valley Police said the arrests of the boys, both 14, were "not necessarily linked" to the fires in the forest.

The A3095 Crowthorne Road remains closed because of the fire, which has also affected the B3430 Nine Mile Ride between Crowthorne and the Coral Reef roundabout.

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