Llantysilio mountain fire 'could have been stopped earlier'

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Grass fireImage source, Gareth Taylor
Image caption,
The fire lasted from 19 July until 25 September last year

A "catastrophic" mountain fire that tied up 999 crews for two months could have been stopped in its first few days, a meeting has heard.

The hearing of a Denbighshire council committee into the Llantysilio blaze last summer was told the fire service could have taken more decisive action.

Farmers said it could have been stopped if fire breaks were cut into the mountain. 

North Wales Fire and Rescue Service said its response was "professional".

Fire breaks are strips of land that have had vegetation cut away to stop flames from spreading.

The fire lasted from 19 July until 25 September - 290 hectares of land on Horseshoe Pass were damaged and, at its height, 60 firefighters were involved.

Gwyn Rowlands, representing the mountain graziers, said he feared it could happen again, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

"Personally I think there was a deficiency in the early stages of the fire," he said. "Had it been effectively controlled and extinguished in those early days then the secondary fires might not have happened."

William Shuttleworth, an agent for Llantysilio Estate, said: "The feeling from the estate point of view is that if the fire had been hit hard and fast that very first day, what was a small fire would not have turned into large incident."

Image caption,
The blaze affected a huge area and led to road closures on the Horseshoe Pass, near Llangollen

Bethan Beech, of Natural Resources Wales, said her organisation was not approached by any third parties to offer to cut fire breaks in the growth.

She said the group's own mowing equipment was in for a service for two weeks during August.

The fire service said it was offered fire breaks by local farmers, but it was decided it was too risky in terms of personal safety.

Llangollen county councillor Melvyn Mile said: "If they had cut fire breaks they could have stopped 99% of the fire.

"The key was to act early and decisively, but instead we had two months of fire on the Horsehoe Pass causing great distress to the residents in the immediate area."

Rhys Hughes, of Llantysilio Community Council, said it was a "catastrophic" fire.

"What a hot summer brings is a harvest for the tourist industry, they don't always get one and there were about half a dozen businesses in the area that had to close because of this fire," he added.

Assistant chief fire officer Richard Fairhead said: "There is no question that this was a challenging incident for us in terms of the unprecedented hot weather conditions, the unpredictable terrain, the vast geography, the specific nature of the fire itself, ensuring a water supply, the implications of large volumes of smoke, the demand on our resources and the need to communicate widely with the public and media, as well as with our partner organisations.

"Under these challenging circumstances I firmly believe that our response to the incident was not only a professional one, but at times the commitment from our crews, as well as from their primary employers in the case of our retained firefighters, went over and above what we would normally expect from them, for which we were extremely grateful."

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