HUGE wildfires have ripped through Saddleworth Moor in Greater Manchester with flames reaching as high as 20ft.
Local authorities have declared the blaze as a major incident and residents have been forced to flee their homes.
Firefighters moved residents from at least 34 homes near Saddleworth Moor as the fire has reportedly edged just 200 metres from people’s homes on Tuesday night.
The blaze has been declared ‘the biggest in living memory’ with residents saying they can barely see due to the thick smoke.
People living 18 miles away reported seeing ‘ash falling from the sky’ that is so thick ‘you can taste it.’
On Wednesday morning, Greater Manchester Police said fire crews “worked bravely through the night” to get the blaze under control.
Tameside Council has issued a health warning to residents urging them to keep windows and doors closed – and told them to keep pets inside over fears of smoke inhalation.
The council told the MEN it has set up evacuation centres for residents as visibility has decreased to just 50m in some places as police declared it a major incident.
Greater Manchester Police said sources say it’s one of the biggest in living memory with an estimated 2,000 acres destroyed to this point with no sign of a slow down despite the efforts of landowners and emergency services.
The force tweeted: “We are in contact with the Army and they are on standby to help if we need them.”
Images posted on social media showed bright orange flames lighting the night sky, while smoke from the fire can be seen for miles.
No injuries have been reported as a result of the fire, but people living nearby have been advised to keep windows and doors closed by Public Health England.
Tameside Council said that two schools – Mossley Hollins High and Buckton Vale Primary – will be closed due to the ongoing fire.
Dee Blanchard, 28, said she could barely see due to the thick smoke outside her house.
Dee said: “I can literally hear the fire crackling. The wind is coming downhill and it’s only about 200 metres away now.
Ellie Shember wrote on Twitter: “There’s ash from Saddleworth Moor falling around me as I walked to pick up my girls in Mossley.
“The devastation up there must be unimaginable.
She later added: “There’s quite a breeze – you can taste the ash.”
Police confirmed on Tuesday evening that they are appealing for information on bikers that use a large quarry on the moor.
In a statement, GMP Saddleworth said: “The fire has decimated land across a huge area and has advanced as far as Tintwhistle.
“Fire officers have informed us that the seat of the fire is located in an area at Tameside called Buckton Hill which is land above Buckton Vale, Carrbrook.
“A large quarry is at this location and it is used extensively by riders on off road motor bikes.
“Although this is not our policing area we have been informed that many of these bikes do not display registration plates and riders are believed from initial enquiries to come from the Tameside general area.
“If an investigation is to be carried out to identify persons seen at this location then colleagues from the Ashton Division will take up those enquiries and we would urge that if you have any information available to assist this process then please dial 101 and report it to us.
“The initial call to emergency services at Tameside was on Saturday and they immediately responded and colleagues from the fire service have been fully engaged as they have tackled flames 20 feet high at times, in swirling conditions and in almost unbearable heat.”
Helicopters have been drafted in tonight to dump water onto the blaze as fire fighters desperately try to get it under control.
As of last night 65,000 gallons of water has been dropped onto the wildfire.
A spokesperson for Tameside council said: “Residents in areas affected by smoke should stay indoors, keep their doors and windows closed, and tune in to the local radio station for advice and information.
“Motorists who have to travel through the smoke should keep windows closed, turn off air conditioning and keep their air vents closed.
“If people need to be outdoors, they are advised to avoid areas affected by any smoke or ash, or to limit the time that they spend in them.
“Smoke can irritate air passages, the skin and the eyes leading to coughing and wheezing, breathlessness and chest pain.
“It can also worsen existing problems such as asthma and people with asthma should carry their inhaler with them at all times.
“Anyone concerned about their symptoms should contact their GP or NHS Direct.”
Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service group manager for Tameside, Phil Nelson, said: “Crews are still tackling this difficult fire and are working hard to contain the blaze and prevent further fire spread.
“Firefighters are faced with very difficult circumstances, intense heat and are working on challenging terrain.
“Our main considerations are for crew welfare. It is physically draining working at this incident and it is vital that our firefighters have regular breaks and that relief crews are available to take over.”
Fire crews were first called to the blaze at around 8.20pm on Sunday and they worked with a local gamekeeper to bring it under control.
They have been using equipment likened to industrial leaf blowers, and beaters to try and extinguish the flames.
But as Brits were basking in the glorious heatwave, the hot temperatures caused the fire to start up again on Monday morning just before 8am.
Firefighters have been battling the flames ever since and the cause of the fire is under investigation.
Yesterday, the sheer scale of the blaze was captured by a drone, taking hundreds of extraordinary images showing the enormous cloud of smoke blocking the sky.
Flames can be seen flickering, as well as the remnants of charred woodland.
The fire can be seen across the region, with people sharing images from as far as Cheshire, Glossop and Ancoats.
Station Manager Lee Bourne, who is the incident commander, said this morning: “Crews are making good progress and are managing to get a hold on the fire.
“There is a concern about the amount of low lying smoke which is affecting local areas, namely Carbrook, Greenfield and parts of Saddleworth, along with Stalybridge.
“Due to the weather conditions and there being a lack of wind, the smoke has settled so it is important for residents to keep doors and windows closed where there is any visible smoke.”