'They played a blinder': MP's praise for emergency services who battled Ilkley Moor blaze

The firefighting operation at Ilkley Moor.
The firefighting operation at Ilkley Moor.
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They were scenes to sadden anyone who has ever strode purposefully across Ilkley Moor or paused for a picnic at the Cow and Calf rocks.

One of Yorkshire’s most famous beauty spots, under siege from the ravages of a ferocious fire that took hold during the hottest day of the year so far.

A helicopter 'water bombs' Ilkley Moor.

A helicopter 'water bombs' Ilkley Moor.

Dozens of firefighters from across the county were drafted in yesterday to battle the blaze, which affected more than 60 acres of moorland near Hangingstone Road, directly south of Ilkley.

And this evening, as police said three men had been arrested in connection with events on Ilkley Moor, praise for the response of the emergency services and Bradford Council was led by John Grogan, MP for Keighley and Ilkley.

Mr Grogan said: “The sheer athleticism and determination of the firefighters lugging heavy equipment in searing heat up the moorside has rightly been much remarked upon.

"More than one onlooker reported seeing young firemen and women sink to the ground as they came down off the moor as if they had run a marathon. They played a blinder.”

Firefighters at Ilkley Moor today.

Firefighters at Ilkley Moor today.

Owen Wells, chair of the Friends of Ilkley Moor group, said today: “We are told [the fire] is smouldering but well under control.

"For the people living up on Cowpasture Road or near the Craiglands Hotel it must have been extremely worrying, because this dense smoke was coming down.

"You can still smell burning around here. I am well away from it in Eaton Road, but my car was covered in ash this morning.”

West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service said the cause of the incident was under investigation and confirmed that “malicious ignition” had not been ruled out.

The brigade was initially called to a fire close to the landmark Dick Hudsons pub at about 12.50pm yesterday, with the alarm being raised about the more serious problems at Hangingstone Road – around two miles nearer Ilkley as the crow flies but on the same expanse of moorland – shortly after 3.10pm.

At the height of the Hangingstone Road operation, 14 fire engines were in attendance and local residents were asked to stay inside their homes.

Bradford Council also gave people the option of moving to temporary accommodation last night.

Community spirit was much in evidence, with police thanking an unnamed woman who dropped off food and water for officers attending the fire after hearing they had not had a meal.

Martyn Hughes, a watch manager at North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, tweeted: “The intense heat, steep slopes and rough terrain are causing the fire to spread rapidly whilst we try to get near the flames.”

A total of 70 firefighters were still at the Hangingstone Road scene this morning, with a helicopter being deployed to dump tonnes of water onto the scorched moorland.

Roads remained closed and West Yorkshire Police urged people to stay away from the area due to the “dangerous conditions”.

The West Yorkshire force confirmed that three men – aged 24, 23 and 19 – had been arrested in connection with “a fire on Ilkley Moor”.

A police spokesman said: “Enquiries are ongoing with the fire service to establish if this incident is linked to the larger blaze.”

The weekend’s images will have stirred distressing memories for many of the fire that swept across Ilkley Moor in 2006.

It destroyed an estimated 500 acres of land between Addingham and Ben Rhydding – around a quarter of the moor.

Countryside officials at the time said that it would take the local vegetation as much as 20 years to recover.

The fire risks associated with moorland terrain were dramatically highlighted last summer, when the Army had to be drafted in to help contain a blaze on Saddleworth Moor, above Stalybridge, Greater Manchester.

Days of dry weather were also blamed for a fire in February this year on Marsden Moor, to the west of Huddersfield.

Temperatures in the Ilkley area reached 22C (71.6F) yesterday afternoon.