POLICE believe an enforcement order hastily brought in to prevent further fires on vulnerable moorland was disobeyed after a three-day blaze saw smoke billow into the air and affect scores of Barnsley residents.
High smoke levels in areas including Penistone, Millhouse and Thurlstone were all reported this week after the blaze – which at its height stretched for six miles on National Trust-controlled land from across the Kirklees border to Dunford Bridge – ignited on Sunday evening.
Crews from South Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire were all involved and advised residents to keep their doors and windows closed.
They used water from nearby reservoirs to end the major incident by Wednesday evening.
Barnsley firefighters were part of a team involved in tackling fast-spreading flames which resulted in an estimated 1,500 hectares – the equivalent of almost 2,000 football pitches – of moorland in the same area being damaged almost two years ago to the day.
The latest blaze came just weeks after pleas were made for visitors to be careful when visiting beauty spots which are protected by a far-reaching public space protection order (PSPO) which bans barbecues and fireworks.
A police spokesman said: “We believe this fire was caused by the actions of somebody who disobeyed the PSPO order.
“This is not only illegal and irresponsible but shows a total disregard for protecting our valuable countryside for all our residents and visitors to enjoy.
“This has been a complex operation across a large area of land, but we’re pleased to say that the incident has now been closed.
“Sadly, around two square miles of land has been affected by this fire, something which will take years to recover.
“We talk regularly about the importance of people being vigilant and being responsible while on the moorland and this incident shows the devastating impact that moorland fires can have.
“This fire was particularly complex because of the land that we were working on – some of the areas of fire were difficult to get to, and it was crucial that we worked with our neighbouring forces to ensure a coordinated response.
“Moorland fires can spread very quickly and can put people, animals and property at risk.
“As this incident has demonstrated, tackling these fires also requires a lot of time and resources when they occur.
“Please do think about the consequences that careless or irresponsible behaviour can have on our moorlands.”
At the incident’s height, there were around 70 firefighters on scene at any one time – 13 fire engines and numerous specialist wildfire teams were deployed.
A helicopter was brought in on Monday to drop water onto the worst-affected areas while fire crews used blowers, beaters and hose reels to tackle hotspots.
Craig Best, from the National Trust, added: “We’d like to thank everyone who worked with us to bring this fire under control.
“It’s been an incredible effort and our rangers are really grateful. At the moment we are assessing the damage to see how much precious habitat has been lost.
“This catastrophic event shows just how vulnerable our moorlands are, and how a small spark can cause substantial damage.
“As well as the environmental impact, tens of thousands of pounds that we’ve invested into restoring the moors has been lost.”