Rain extinguishes hundreds of fires but Scotland still ablaze

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The Independent Online

After one of the driest springs for 20 years, rain extinguished hundreds of forest and grass fires yesterday that have raged throughout the bank holiday weekend.

After one of the driest springs for 20 years, rain extinguished hundreds of forest and grass fires yesterday that have raged throughout the bank holiday weekend.

But six fires were still burning in Scotland last night and, although further downpours were forecast, these were not expected to have much effect on the fires. The worst was on the Ardnamurchan peninsula on the west coast, where about 40 firefighters were spending a fifth day tackling flames across 45 square kilometres of open moor and forest.

Hampered by a lack of water sources, firefighters were forced to contend with a south-easterly wind that was blowing the fire backwards, threatening a number of properties close to a natural history centre. Highland and Islands Fire Brigade's divisional officer, Hugh Henny, said: "These fires have put a great deal of strain on our resources and firefighters, who have been working long periods in exhausting conditions." A spokesman added: "At the moment we are looking for substantial rainfall to assist us in tackling the fire. We have not got that so far."

Other fires were burning from Ayrshire and Lanarkshire to the Western Isles.

Crews across Britain were stretched after weeks of warm, dry weather left much of the countryside tinderbox dry. The blazes broke out as temperatures soared at the start of the Easter break. Many of the fires appear to have been started deliberately. Despite the cooler weather and occasional showers that followed the hot spell last week, high winds have continued to fan the flames.

John Brydon, a wildlife officer with Mallaig police in Scotland, said the fires had taken hold at "the worst time of year" with the lambing season on the way. With birds nesting, the forest fires would have a devastating effect, he said.

On Lewis, freshening winds were spreading the flames on Barvas Moor towards nearby villages. Although homes are not at risk just yet, the Territorial Army has joined the firefighting operation.

In Wales, where 400 fires have been reported in recent days, all were extinguished by rain.

A spokeswoman for South Wales Fire Service said: "It's raining. The fires are all out and we are glad. We've been horrendously busy."

A police spokesman said that four people questioned about starting fires had been released after investigations ruled them out.

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