Dovestones fires: police appealing for information about moorland blazes believed to be deliberate

Emergency services say it is incomprehensible why people would want to set the moorland on fire on purpose.

Police appealing for information about a number of moorland fires in Greater Manchester have said they are working on the assumption the blazes were started on purpose.

Five fires were discovered in the Dovestones area in Oldham between Sunday 10 and Tuesday 12 July on land close to the car park.

Police say that traces of accelerant were found at three of the locations, leading them to conclude the blazes were started deliberately.

Emergency services have hit out at the idea that anyone would deliberately want to do damage to Greater Manchester’s moorlands and issued warnings about fire safety in the countryside and the rules that are in place to protect it.

What are the incidents police are investigating?

The police are jointly investigating, along with Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS), a number of blazes on moorland near Dovestones which happened in recent days.

In total they have found five places where it is understood fires broke out, and there was evidence to show three were lit on purpose.

This is not far from the areas of Stalybridge and Saddleworth where severe wildfires broke out in the summer of 2018, requiring a massive emergency service response.

What have the police said?

The emergency services have said there are measures in place in the Saddleworth area to prevent fires being lit and added that in recent days three people have been issued with financial penalties because they were posing a risk to the moorland.

They have also sought to remind people of just how devastating and dangerous wildfires can be, and particularly urged people thinking of taking barbecues into the countryside to think again.

Superintendent Phillip Hutchinson, of Greater Manchester Police (GMP) Oldham district, said: “Enquiries are ongoing to identify those responsible for starting these fires which could have had a devastating impact on the land, the wildlife and residents who live in the surrounding area. I ask anyone with information to share it with us as soon as possible.

“Maintaining safety at Saddleworth Moor is of great importance to both ourselves and our partner agencies. Only days before this fire, we attended an event during which we spoke with members of the public about how to use the area in the summer. Unfortunately, during this event, our officers sighted persons posing a risk so three fixed penalty notices were issued.

“I would like to use this opportunity to remind members of the public that there is a Public Space Protection Order in place at Saddleworth Moor – meaning it is a criminal offence to start fires in the area, including BBQs. A breach of the order can result in a £1,000 fine.

“I ask members of the public who frequent in the area and residents who live surrounding it to report anyone they suspect of planning and illegal BBQ or committing any other crime.”

What has the fire service said?

Jim Wilmott, GMFRS group manager at Bury, Oldham and Rochdale, said: “We have seen just how devastating and damaging wildfires can be, especially in Saddleworth, in recent times.

“It’s difficult to understand why anyone would want to deliberately start a fire in moorlands, but sadly it does happen and when conditions are this dry, they grow quickly and easily out of control.

“For those who do think this is a good idea, you should know that not only does it destroy precious moorland, but it also puts local wildlife and people at danger, causing huge disruption and means our resources are often unable to attend other serious incidents.

“The evidence suggests that a fires at Dove Stone in Saddleworth were deliberately started. I urge people to contact Greater Manchester Police with any information you have about this so those responsible can be rightly punished.

“Our message is strong and clear - never have a barbecue or campfire in the countryside or start a fire deliberately. It’s selfish and dangerous.”

What should anyone with information about these fires do?

Anyone with information about the latest fires should contact GMP via the LiveChat facility on the force’s website or by calling 101.

Information can also be shared anonymously via the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.