Heathland fires continue to rage across the UK

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The Independent Online

Heathland fires were still raging across parts of the Scottish Highlands, Ireland and north west England today after the record-breaking dry spell.

Emergency services continued to tackle the fires as forecasters said there was very little chance of rain in the next 24 hours.

In the Scottish Highlands, firefighters tackled two wildfires which have been raging since the holiday weekend.

At Shiel Bridge three properties were evacuated last night as the flames advanced.

Today, 22 firefighters were at the scene and there were plans to use helicopters later to dampen the blaze.

Nine firefighters are still at the scene of a blaze in Torridon, which has been burning since Sunday afternoon.

Yesterday, Stornoway Coastguard rescued seven people and a dog after the wildfires swept parts of the Highlands.

The coastguard helicopter Rescue 100 was scrambled to airlift two walkers at 2.20pm yesterday after they became trapped in fires on Liathach in the Torridon mountain range.

Once they had been rescued, another four people and a dog were found and rescued before the helicopter was diverted to another area to check for more walkers.

The Mallaig RNLI lifeboat also saved a 27-year-old woman whose campsite had been encircled by fires in the remote western tip of the Ardnish Peninsula, Loch Ailort.

In Lancashire, fire crews continued their attempts to control two fires in Belmont and Simonswood which started on Friday and Saturday respectively.

A spokeswoman for Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service said three appliances and a high volume pump were being used at Belmont, and four appliances and a high volume pump were tackling the Simonswood blaze.

She said they were hoping to send a helicopter over the sites today to assess the situation.

In Northern Ireland, police were investigating reports of a man seen with a petrol can close to one of the worst gorse fires for years in the Mourne Mountains.

Another two youths were spotted lighting fires in south Armagh, reports to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) added.

Hundreds of acres of land are being destroyed, and homes and livestock threatened by fires which have burned for much of the bank holiday weekend in Counties Down, Armagh and Tyrone.

In Ireland, three Air Corps helicopters and more than 100 troops wearing specialist suits have been tackling wildfires in the north- west of the country.

The Defence Forces said operations were focusing on the Dungloe area of Co Donegal, where significant progress has been made.

Paul Knightley, a forecaster from MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said it was unlikely to rain until tomorrow evening at the earliest.

He said: "We're not expecting any rain in the next 24 hours. There's an area of high pressure over the north of the country.

"Tomorrow night it looks like some showery rain will start to edge into Northern Ireland and it might start to edge into Scotland on Thursday morning."

The forecaster said both Scotland and Northern Ireland had just two-thirds of the rain it would normally expect in April.

With 1.7in (43mm) falling across Scotland, it was 68% of the normal rainfall, and the 1.5in (38mm) in Northern Ireland was 66% of normal levels.

Last month was the hottest April on record in England and Wales, Mr Knightley said.

Rainfall was just 21% of the expected levels, and the average temperature was the hottest since records began 353 years ago.

In Berkshire, three schools were closed today as fires continued to cause problems in Swinley Forest, Bracknell.

The blazes broke out just before 1pm yesterday, causing severe traffic disruption towards the south of Bracknell Forest and particularly around the Crowthorne area.

Initially two areas were affected by fire - one to the east of the A3095 Nine Mile Ride and the second west of the A3095 - but the fires have since spread to four areas, police said.

Schools closed include Edgbarrow Secondary School, Crowthorne C of E Primary School and Wildmoor Heath Primary School. The Look Out Discovery Centre and Coral Reef Waterworld are also shut, Thames Valley Police said.

A police spokesman said: "Motorists are warned to expect severe traffic disruption throughout the day and diversions will be in operation."

Firefighters were also tackling a blaze on land on the sprawling Balmoral Estate, the Scottish home of the Royal Family, north of Glen Muick in Aberdeenshire, assisted by a helicopter.

Grampian Fire and Rescue said there was a large wildfire with two fronts, one 200m-300m long and the other 50m long.

Estate workers from Balmoral and other surrounding estates were also helping to tackle the blaze.

The estate covers around 20,000 hectares (just over 50,000 acres).