Moorlands and forests set ablaze as dry spell persists

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The Independent Online

Drought conditions persisted across Britain yesterday as the long dry spell continued with no promise of any rain.

Five fire crews and 20 Peak District rangers were last night dousing burning peat and heather on Derwent moors, west of Sheffield.

Firefighters were also at the scene of a huge forest fire raging out of control near Port Talbot, West Glamorgan. Police evacuated families from about 50 nearby houses at one stage as flames came within 20 yards of their homes.

In Yorkshire, water standpipes being installed on the streets in readiness for a worsening in the drought brought fresh criticism of water officials.

The taps were installed as part of a test by Yorkshire Water, one of the companies worst hit by the heatwave.

On the English-Welsh border helicopter patrols are to be mounted to ensure that farmers comply with a ban on pumping water from the River Wye from today. Fines of up to pounds 20,000 are possible.

National Rivers Authority officers will support the day-time air operation with night monitoring using sophisticated equipment normally deployed by water bailiffs to track down poachers.

The restrictions which affect the border counties of England and Wales, will remain until 30 September unless future rainfall allows them to be lifted earlier. Ian Barker, the NRA's regional water resources officer, said: "We will be keeping a close eye on any illegal abstraction of water."

Meanwhile milk supplies to many dairies across England and Wales are to be cut by 3 per cent for at least a month because of prolonged drought. Production has been reduced by at least 10 per cent below forecast.