Lancaster flood rescue team help fire crews at Winter Hill

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A flood rescue team from Lancaster is currently supporting Lancashire Fire and Rescue at the devastating moorland fires at Winter Hill near Bolton.

Lancaster Area Search and Rescue (LASAR), based in Caton Road, responded to a plea from the fire service on Saturday for tracked vehicles to help on the fireground where they are having difficulties moving around the burnt ground on the fell sides, and getting supplies of water, equipment and fire fighters to the critical areas.

Paul Calland, operations manager at LASAR, said: “As the fires have been burning for some time and people form miles away are now seeing ash and dust on their cars and can smell the smoke in the air, fire crews are being brought in from near and far. We worked with crews from Appleby in Cumbria, Horwich near Bolton, Spalding in Lincolnshire, Nottingham, Greater Manchester and loads more. These guys do the hard work while we just help them get to where they need to go, because without support from vehicles like these and other volunteer teams like us supporting them, they would be expected to walk up the fells before they could fight the fires and then walk down again later filthy and exhausted, all in fire proof clothing and 30+ degree heat.”

Paul added: “Although it seems like an odd choice using a flood rescue team for something like this we have a number of team members who have very specialists skills that can be used.

“Although a lot of the general public very kindly offered pickups and quad bikes and even bull dozers, none of these travel well or at all on the peat up there.

“Also civilian drivers are not likely to be familiar with the command and control systems used by the fire service on a major incident, or even how and where it is safe to operate in a live fire situation.

“However Buckhurst Plant Hire offered their Hagglunds BV206 4 track drive all terrain vehicles. These were designed for use by the military in snow but also used on the peat bogs in the Falklands war and more recently in Afghanistan. LASAR have a number of experienced Hagglunds drivers and crew so were tasked to the ongoing moorland fires at Winter Hill to drive the two Hagglunds provided by Buckhursts.

“Our crews have years of experience working closely together and also working with Fire crews, so the vehicles were put to use straight away, fitted with 1000 litre water containers, fire fighting pumps and lances and teams of fire fighters assigned to each one to allow them to do their jobs. The main benefit is that the water can be taken to the fire. The only other way is for fire fighters to used beaters or small flexi back packs with a little water in, which obviously will not last long. Many kilometres of hose has been laid up the fell sides but will only go so far as miles and miles or moorland is still burning or smouldering. The weather is so dry and hot that the fires burn underground and slight breath of wind is all it takes to ignite it into flames again.

“We have worked alongside Mountain Rescue Teams, United Utilities and even the Coastguard who have deployed small 8 wheel drive argocat vehicles, all while helicopters fly backwards and forwards overhead water bombing the worst flare ups. We all work together, even pulling vehicles out when they get stuck as the terrain is so difficult, but the sense of camaraderie is fantastic.”

The LASAR team are all volunteers so give up their day jobs to attend incidents like these, and even use their own cars and pay for their own fuel to get to Winter Hill each day to help.

Once there the general public have been so generous that there is plenty of food and water, otherwise they would buy their own as well.

The charity is funded by proceeds from their new charity shop on Caton Road, just off Lansil way and they would be grateful for any support spreading the word to get lots more people to visit the shop and hopefully pick up a bargain or two.

Paul added: “We fully expect to have to continue to try and support the Fire Service as long as they need us and as long as the Hagglunds are still available, and the team volunteers employers allow them more unpaid time off work.

“It’s likely that the fires are not going to go out soon while this hot dry weather continues.

“If anyone wants to support us we are desperate for shop volunteers to do a couple of hours a week and especially a couple of van drivers for a couple of hours a week to do furniture collections and deliveries. As at the moment the operational team members do that as well!”

For more information visit www.lasar.org.uk.