Heath fires blaze on as rains fail to arrive

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Firefighters continued to tackle hundreds of forest, moor and grass fires yesterday as expected rain failed to arrive to damp down Britain's tinder-dry countryside.

Firefighters continued to tackle hundreds of forest, moor and grass fires yesterday as expected rain failed to arrive to damp down Britain's tinder-dry countryside.

The biggest fire was on the Ardnamurchan peninsula at Salen, close to the island of Mull, where a blaze covering 28 square miles was still raging almost 96 hours after it started. Fire crews admitted that they were stretched to the limit.

Helicopters dropped water bombs as reinforcements from up to 50 miles away were drafted into the area to work alongside local volunteers and estate workers in a desperate attempt to contain the flames – made especially difficult by the remote terrain and lack of water supplies. Hugh Henny, of the Highlands and Islands Fire Brigade assistant firemaster, said: "We are facing a very difficult task on the ground because of the problems in reaching the fire and the exhausting conditions."

Elsewhere, firefighters were called to up to 400 grass and heathland fires in south Wales. The worst were in the Abertillery area and on the Cock and Chick mountain and the Arrael mountain.

Many of the blazes appear to have been started deliberately and, so far, five people have been arrested on suspicion of arson.

Six teenage army cadets were safe and well yesterday after being caught in a forest fire in Northern Ireland. The teenagers, aged between 14 and 16, were part of a larger group taking part in an outdoor exercise in Slieveanorra Forest Park, near Newtowncrommelin in Co Antrim, when the fire broke out.

There have been more than 500 gorse fires in the past two days in Northern Ireland.

In Norfolk, firefighters spent several hours dousing grass and peat fires at Holt, the latest in a number of small heath and forest fires in East Anglia over the past few days.

Elsewhere in Scotland, fires burnt at Barvas on the Isle of Harris in the Western Isles, at Knoydart in the west Highlands and at Brig O'Turk near Callander, although firefighters were confident that they were coping.

At least one firefighter has been injured and had to be flown to hospital in Stornoway after suffering the effects of smoke inhalation while tackling a blaze in Gairloch, in the north-west Highlands.

So far, the fires raging across Scotland have been predicted to lead to landowners and local authorities facing a bill of more than £3m. And the unusually dry spell looks likely to continue.

More optimistically, forecasts predicted winds were dying down and some showers would arrive in the South and South-east of England tonight, with light rain also reaching the eastern coast of Scotland.

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