Greater Manchester Police (GMP) have revealed that they are investigating reports that the devastating fire on Saddleworth Moor was an act of arson.
Unusually high temperatures and strong winds have been blamed for the rapid spread of the wildfire, thought to be the largest on the moor in living memory, but detectives now suspect that the first flames were set intentionally.
“People were seen lighting a bonfire on the moors near Stalybridge on 24 June, shortly before a call was made to the fire service,” the BBC reports.
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No arrests have been made, but a GMP spokesman confirmed officers were "currently pursuing this as a possible line of inquiry".
However, Chief Superintendent Neil Evans cautioned that, given the difficulty of obtaining “solid evidence”, the root cause of the fire “will not be easy to establish”.
“The areas we have been able to look include dusty ash, burnt peat and grass and, because of this, our work with the fire service will be painstaking,” he said.
Firefighters were initially called to tackle a small fire on land near Buckton Vale, south-west of the moor, on Sunday evening, The Sun reports.
“After working with a local gamekeeper to put out the blaze in a couple of hours, the heat caused it to reignite two days later,” says the newspaper.
The fire spread rapidly overnight, and families had to be evacuated from 34 homes in Carrbrook, Stalybridge, as the flames crept closer to residential areas.
“High temperatures and strong winds are believed to have exacerbated the situation,” HuffPost reports.
The wildfire has now been contained, although it continues to devour acres of moorland, says the Manchester Evening Post.
Ten fire crews, assisted by around 100 soldiers from the Royal Regiment of Scotland, continue to battle the blaze, which at its peak engulfed an area measuring 7 square miles - almost three times the size of Gibraltar.
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