Hope that rain will bring week of wildfires to a smouldering end

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Some of the worst wildfires seen in Britain for more than 30 years continued to smoulder last night.

At Swinley Forest near Bracknell, more than 200 firefighters were containing a blaze which had taken hold in deep peat after destroying 3 sq km of woodland. The Berkshire fire service said it was likely to stay in attendance for several days.

Some of the many fires that have raged in tinder dry countryside across the nation for the past week are thought to have been started deliberately.

Yesterday Thames Valley police said they had arrested two youths on suspicion of arson. The North Wales fire service warned of the hazards of Chinese lanterns, which as well as causing fires can injure livestock. In Lancashire, firefighters have been stretched to the limit fighting a moorland fire at Belmont near Bolton.

In West Yorkshire two fires near Halifax were under control last night. Another at Red Moss Nature Reserve in Horwich, Bolton, was also out. One of the most severely affected places was the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales, where 2,000 acres were destroyed. Conservation officers reported finding "thousands" of dead skylark eggs. Many hares, moles, hen harriers, lizards and amphibians were also killed. Last night rain had brought the fire under control.

In the Scottish Highlands, wildfires broke out in Inverkirkaig, Lochailort and in Newton of Ardtoe in Salen. Some rain has fallen, but only a sustained downpour will extinguish the fires which continue to burn a metre below the surface. The National Trust for Scotland said at least £100,000 of damage had been caused to its forest regeneration project in Torridon and Kintail. A fire in heather and gorse at the Queen's Balmoral estate, which started on Monday, is now under control.

Spokesman Dave Evans said: "With the increasing use of Chinese lanterns at wedding ceremonies and other celebratory events, the public needs to be aware that these lanterns have a number of associated problems.

"Our primary concern is the risk of a smouldering lantern causing a fire and the injuries they can cause to livestock if consumed by the animal."

Mr Evans said the fuel cells in the lanterns have embers which can fall to the ground and carry on glowing for a number of minutes even after the flame has gone out.

Fires across the country

* Fire services in the Highlands have attended 60 wildfires, with crews from 75 stations in action.

* Crews in Northern Ireland have fought more than 1,000 gorse and forest fires in the past four days, in what chiefs said was the busiest time in 30 years.

* About 200 firefighters from seven counties have been involved in tackling the fires near Ascot and dampening down hot-spots.

* In Lancashire moorland fires have occupied the crews of 32 of the county's 39 fire stations for the best part of a week.

* The Swinley Forest fire has affected 300 hectares of land since Monday afternoon and destroyed at least 40 hectares.