Here in the Northwest of England it’s not often we have much of a summer to talk about. But at the moment we are in the middle of a prolonged dry spell, in the middle of a heatwave, nonetheless.
The other night I sat in the back garden listening to Son House, thankful for the cooler air that evening brings. The moon was a striking red colour, possibly portentous but more likely, I thought, due to some strange meteorological condition I’d been too lazy to learn about.
The following morning I stepped through the front door and was immediately aware of a strange smell in the air. My children screwed up their faces dramatically, asking what it was, and then on the school run we noticed in the distance smoke billowing into the bright blue sky from the cradling hills.
The moors were alight. Saddleworth moors, lonely, expansive and untamed, were besieged by crackling swathes of fire. Though we were some miles away it was the scent of the tinder-box peat burning that was reaching us on the westerly breeze.
We have no forests as such around here, at least not to the extent we sometimes see on the news when America suffers those great forest fires. But we do have moorland-possibly the last real wilderness of England, to me northern, bleak and inspirational. The sight of this destruction, on the edge of greater Manchester, was both a novelty and distressing.
Long time followers of City Jackdaw may recall a post from 2013 when my family visited Dovestone Reservoir. That day the scenery was photogenic:
The village of Carrbrook, in Stalybridge, had to be evacuated for the first time in living memory, as the inexorable cocktail of smoke and fumes inched closer, despite the best efforts of firemen to halt it. Peat and heather are slow-burning, difficult to anticipate with the ever-changing winds. Fire in one spot, seemingly vanquished, can burst into flame once again from sparks smouldering beneath the peat. Ash snowed down upon surrounding towns.
People are safe but the effects will be devastating on the wildlife of the area. Already there are tales of deer going into the smoke for their young and coming back out in flames, ground-nesting birds swirling through the smoke crying for chicks that don’t respond, hares lying strewn across the fields while the domesticated animals such as sheep and cattle have been shepherded away to safety, with people offering stables and sheds to locals displaced with horses and chickens. It’s that border between the rural and urban that’s been breached, both joined together in a desolate, charred landscape.
Within the last few minutes I’ve heard that the army has been called in to help stem the tide, and, while on the one hand being angry at the (unsubstantiated reports) that the fire was caused by illegal, off-road bikers, I can only be filled with admiration at the Herculean response of the emergency authorities, battling away in such difficult conditions.
I got up this morning with last night’s terrible events still fresh in my mind. Up to now, sixty dogs are reported to have died, and none of the two hundred that were inside the building were unharmed. All were suffering from smoke inhalation.
It seems that the part of the building that was targeted was where the kennels was housed. The roof had collapsed.
There were unprecedented scenes as hundreds of people arrived while the fire was still being fought, bringing things like blankets and food, baskets and leads.
When the fire started two men scaled a fence and kicked a door in to gain access. Having to abandon some of the dogs to their fate where the fire was at its most intense, they kicked open the cage doors of other dogs, led them outside on leads where they tied them to a fence and then went back to free more.
Devastated staff and fire crew battled to rescue more of the terrified animals.
Police have been inundated with calls to foster the surviving dogs, and donations have already topped the £100,000 mark.
The community response has been fantastic-this is what we must focus on, not the growing anger and demands being made against the fourteen year old that the police have arrested for starting the fire. Although I understand all of the emotion-my newsfeed last night was full of people genuinely distressed-I think we must leave the authorities to do their job, and do what we can to help with the dogs and the charity that housed them.
Some terrible news here in Manchester tonight. It seems that Manchester Dog’s Home is on fire, and a youth has been arrested on suspicion of arson. There are reports of dogs yelping inside as the blaze takes hold.
Two men managed to climb a fence and kick a door in to gain access to part of the building, getting twenty dogs out and going back for more. The latest estimate is that over sixty dogs are dead with 150 rescued.
My Facebook newsfeed is full of people genuinely distressed, and also directing anger towards whoever is (allegedly) responsible.
But that is for later. Local residents are mobilising to provide blankets, food etc, and police say they have been inundated with offers to house surviving dogs. Local supermarkets are already arranging collection points for donations of money and food, with online facilities being set up too.
It is heartening to see the community come together like this, but tonight at this moment in time, all I can think of is the sound of those poor, trapped dogs yelping. 😦