Heather moorland spanning 7.7 hectares was badly damaged in a fire on Sunday, caused by sparks from a passing steam engine
The North Yorkshire Moors Railway is gearing up for its 40th anniversary celebrations, with record numbers of passengers expected, and Whitby fire station’s watch manager Chris Watson said he expects more incidents like this, unless the dry spell experienced by the region ends soon.
The blaze was reported to North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue at 4.45pm, at a spot known as Carter’s House. WM Watson said: “There were three different sets of fire. Immediately in front of us, right along the lineside and another going up a very steep embankment, which we were worried was going to get over the crag top, to the moorland above.”
Had the fire spread to Wilden Moor, the crews feared strong winds would feed the flames and it could burn completely out of control.
Firefighters from all over the region, including Whitby, Robin Hood’s Bay and Goathland, battled the burning until 9pm, when they were forced to stop. WM Watson explained: “We had to withdraw when it got dark because of the steep embankment. There was literally steep drops and it was too dangerous for anybody to be up there.”
The crews returned on Monday morning and stayed on the site until 1pm, dampening down the fire and ensuring it was completely extinguished.
The location of the blaze was so remote that to get equipment to the site two fire crews were forced to hitch a lift on a packed train from Goathland, full of tourists. “It was a bit like Dad’s Army, commandeering the train,” said WM Watson.
However, despite the fire being placed just beside the heritage railway, there was no danger to trains or passengers. “We would have stopped the trains if they were in danger,” said WM Watson. “But it was going up to the moorland so they just got a good view of a really big fire.”
Last Tuesday crews fought a fire in Beck Hole, which was also caused by a spark from an engine, and the cause of both incidents has been attributed to the weather experienced so far this year. Poor weather in the first few months prevented the NYMR from undertaking controlled burning of lineside foliage, and with no burning allowed after April 15, a large amount of undergrowth remains beside the line. This poor weather has then been followed by a dry spell, which has further increased the risk of ignition.
NYMR general manager Philip Benham said: “Obviously we are very sorry that the fire occurred and the distress this caused the land owners and the tenants. We are very grateful for the efforts of the fire-fighters and of our own staff and volunteers. We are currently investigating the cause of this incident as we do have quite stringent procedures that ensure engines throw out the minimum of sparks. During the most sensitive drought periods we have fire watch patrols up and down the line which is formed from the monitoring of the vegetation condition by the line side and information we receive from the National Park. Since the introduction of these additional measures the number of incidents has fallen dramatically and we hope to continue this good record.”