The fires that lit up vast areas of Marsden Moor last Thursday are being investigated as arson.
West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS) is working with West Yorkshire Police to get to the bottom of these crimes that caused damage to areas of moorland and wildlife.
Richard Hawley, temporary group manager and WYFRS’s lead wildfire officer, said: “We are working with the police to try and identify the people responsible for these horrific fires and bring them to justice.
“Wildfires are often caused by human behaviour and so we are calling on the people who visit the moors to be alert to the risk of wildfires when enjoying the countryside. Don’t have open fires in the countryside and don’t use smoking materials, barbecues or any other flames.
“However, we know that these recent fires on Marsden Moor were started deliberately. Purposely starting a wildfire is a criminal offence. It can be devastating to the environment and wildlife, and could ultimately put people’s lives at risk. If you see someone deliberately starting a fire please report it immediately.
“Responding to wildfires also puts added pressure on our crews and it is hard work for our firefighters, taking hours, and sometimes even days, to put wildfires out. We want people to enjoy the stunning countryside and moorland we have here in West Yorkshire, but they should do so responsibly and by following our safety advice.
“The responsibility of preventing wildfires belongs to all of us and we all need to do our bit and stay vigilant.”
Crews were called to the fires in Marsden on Thursday, April 20 as moorland went up in flames at two different sites. The first blaze was off Old Mount Road measuring around 1.5km by 500 metres, the second fire was at Wessenden Lodge, Wessenden Road in Marsden with a moorland fire measuring around 1km squared.
Supt Helen Brear of West Yorkshire Police’s Kirklees District said: “The actions of the person or persons responsible for starting this fire were nothing short of dangerous and could have posed a significant risk to life.
“The fire caused damage to wildlife and the environment, and a major operation was required by fire service colleagues in order to extinguish the blaze. I would appeal for anyone who has information about this incident to come forward.”
Marsden Moor is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and according to the National Trust, which cares for the site, the area affected by the fires was home to rare birds and carbon capturing peat, which is important for helping in the battle against climate change. Ranger teams concluded their site walkovers on Tuesday where they found destroyed bird nests and burnt frogs.
Kate Divey-Matthews, Resilient Landscape Project Officer for the National Trust at Marsden Moor said: “Moorland fires like this cause huge damage to this precious landscape. It’s a really crucial time for our ground nesting bird population, and we’ve found burnt nests and eggs during our site inspections. Fires also cause damage to peat soils which are an important carbon store.
“To make the landscape more resilient to fires, we focus on re-wetting the blanket bog by planting sphagnum moss. On a positive note, we’ve found some of the moss has survived these fires and hasn’t burnt. Some of these mosses were planted with volunteers, including crews from WYFRS. This shows the work we’re doing is making a difference.”
Anyone with information about this incident is urged to contact West Yorkshire Police by calling 101 or go online at www.westyorkshire.police.uk/101livechat quoting reference 1151 of 20/4.
Alternatively, call independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service need your help to prevent wildfires. Go to their website at https://bit.ly/3Ajz6uD to find out more about how you can do your part to reduce wildfire risk and protect your community.