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Soldiers help tackle fire near Saddleworth Moor

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media captionFirefighters working on the moorland face "really difficult" conditions, an officer says

Soldiers helping fight a moorland fire in Greater Manchester that could rage "for weeks" will remain in the area for a further 48 hours to aid fire crews.

About 100 troops from the 4th Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland, were sent from their barracks in Catterick, North Yorkshire, overnight.

The blaze is currently under control but could flare up at any time, the fire service said.

Stalybridge MP Jonathan Reynolds praised the community's "Blitz spirit".

Military assistance was requested to help battle the blaze near Saddleworth Moor which has spread across seven square miles, in six different areas.

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image captionThe soldiers arrived to help tackle the wildfire near Saddleworth Moor
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image captionSoldiers from 4th Battalion Royal Regiment Scotland arrived overnight

Soldiers joined more than 100 firefighters to support the effort by managing water lines and assisting in fire beating on moorland above Stalybridge.

While shops and local residents have teamed up to help keep emergency service staff fed and watered.

A fish and chip shop owner has been offering free meals to firefighters and the military and donations of drinks and food parcels are being collected at Stalybridge Fire Station.

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) has faced many hurdles in trying to quell the blaze that has raged for days including frequent changes in wind direction, the heavy concentration of flammable peat in the ground and the tinder-dry foliage which has baked in searing temperatures.

It said the soldiers' help would allow the service to deal with other emergency calls, including supporting Lancashire colleagues at another moorland blaze at Winter Hill near Rivington.

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Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service tweeted: "15 fire engines are now at this incident. Firefighters are tackling the fire from three locations using specialist wildfire fighting equipment plus hose reels & beaters."

media captionTimelapse footage shows the spread of the fire on Saddleworth Moor

Major Phil Morgan, commanding officer, said: "We're beating the fire with paddles and moving equipment, putting water on the fire.

"It looks like we'll be here for another 48 hours then we'll wait for another request."

A Chinook helicopter was due to fly out of RAF Odiham, Hampshire, to move water-pumping equipment but Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) notified the Ministry of Defence it was "no longer required".

The helicopter is on standby and is still "available as a resource if we need it", GMFRS said.

image captionOwen Jones has been co-ordinating the relief effort from Stalybridge Fire Station

At the scene, Tom Mullen, BBC News

Dozens of people, shops, supermarkets and local businesses have been contributing supplies to help feed the firefighters and military tackling the fire near Saddleworth Moor.

GMFRS station manger Owen Jones has been tasked with co-ordinating the relief effort from Stalybridge Fire Station, where a huge pile of drinks, cakes and other snacks and supplies have been left - ready to be ferried up the hills.

Mr Jones said about 50 people had called at the station today alone, including supermarkets Tesco and Morrisons, local schoolchildren and residents.

Tameside Council has also contributed several 4x4 drivers to help take the supplies to the firefighters battling the flames, alongside volunteers from the fire service and the Prince's Trust.

Mr Jones said: "Working in these conditions is tough. The heat is encouraging the fire to burn, but it's also making the task of our firefighters more arduous.

"There's very little cover or shade or respite. We've got gazebos and shaded areas but it's still been an essential task to get supplies up there to them.

"The response from people wanting to help has been incredibly heart warming. From 7:30 this morning it hasn't stopped. It got to the point where I've had to ask people to go round the back to make room.

"The response from the schoolchildren has been especially nice to see as the schools are closed. They've made handmade cards for the firefighters, cakes, gifts, all sorts.

"I've been running round like a madman. It's been extremely disruptive and scary for the local residents but the community cohesion has been great to see."

Tony Hunter, assistant chief fire officer for the service, said there have been "significant improvements" but added an "air of caution as we thought we had a similar situation yesterday".

He said if it does change direction it could add fuel to the fire.

"The fire is contained at the moment, but we only need a change of wind direction to see the fire increase. We are working hard to keep on top of the blaze."

He added: "Our main action is to protect to the left-hand side to stop it spreading towards the residents, and to the right-hand side to make sure it doesn't go... into unburnt material."

image captionAssistant chief fire officer for GMFRS says the fire was "contained at the moment"

Resident Peter Fenton said he had been impressed with the way the community of Carrbrook, which had been evacuated on Tuesday, had come together in the wake of the fire.

"Schools are closed but the schoolchildren have been keeping busy handing out supplies to the police and firefighters," he said.

"Shops have been handing out water too, and I heard a supermarket sent up a whole stack of stuff."

Janine East, owner of Mill Brook fish and chip shop in Stalybridge, said she "wanted to do her bit" as she knows what a "huge task" they have.

"I know what it's like up on the moors and what the terrain's like. It's incredibly steep."

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image captionA panoramic view showed the extent of the smoke on Wednesday evening
image copyrightInzy Rashid
image captionEvidence the fire was still burning could be seen as dawn broke on Thursday in Carrbrook
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image captionFire engines park up on the moor as firefighters continue tackling the blaze

An investigation is set to be launched into the fire but Mr Hunter said: "We can see this being prolonged for days if not weeks, particularly with the fact that the wind has drawn the fires towards the residential but actually away from the centre of the moor."

He said what was needed most was "a significant downpour of rain" - but none has been forecast.

Mr Hunter said: "Over the course of the fire it goes further and further down into the peat and once its down there, it gets very difficult without liquid to put the fire out unless you have a digger.

"We can't dig a square mile of moorland up."

media captionHelicopters are being used in the effort to fight a moorland fire in Greater Manchester.
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image captionThe blaze was initially brought under control but reignited on Monday
image copyrightPA
image captionFirefighters continued to battle the fire at daybreak

On Wednesday, firefighters had faced the arduous task of hauling pumps and hoses for up to two miles in blistering heat to reach parts of the fire.

Greater Manchester Police deployed a helicopter to assess the scene and United Utilities provided a helicopter to drop water on to remote areas.

Having started on Sunday the blaze was initially brought under control but reignited on Monday and has continued throughout the hot and dry weather this week.

About 150 people were forced to leave their homes in the village of Carrbrook on Tuesday evening as the fire encroached.

The majority had returned by Wednesday afternoon.

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image captionCommunity support officers patrolled the village of Carrbrook
image copyrightDr Richard Bircher
image captionDr Richard Bircher said fellow GPs had opened late to meet the extra demand

An investigation is set to be launched into the cause of the fire.

Dr Richard Bircher, of Lockside Medical Centre in Stalybridge, said he had treated nine "normally fit and healthy" people for chest complaints and breathing difficulties.

"Chest complaints can develop for a number of reasons but I think it's safe to assume the smoke is the main factor behind the increase," he said.

Dr Bircher said he expected the number of people seeking treatment would continue to rise as smoke lingered, particularly among older people, but added there had been no increase in hospital admissions.

He praised the response of Tameside's social care services and fellow GPs who had opened late to meet the extra demand for appointments and advised anybody exposed to smoke to continue to wear dust masks and seek advice if they developed breathing problems.

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