Saddleworth Fire

On Monday I came blithely home after work, closed my car door, waved at D at the window, ignorant of the smoke pouring over the hills behind me. D pointed frantically behind me and I saw Dish Stone Moss and Dove Stone Moss alight. We are a place of old names from Iron Tongue Hill to the slumbering giant at Alphin. Smoke rolled across the valley towards us and by night time our smoke alarms were ringing out as we closed our windows. The wind changed direction on Tuesday, blowing vast clouds of smoke down the valley head and into the towns and villages towards Manchester. They have bore the brunt of the smoke, and some homeowners have left rather than breathe in the ash. Wildfires are not unusual in Saddleworth; a few days of sun and some barbecuing idiot sets fire to the heather around Dovestones (on the maps it's two words, locally the dialect runs it into one glorious image). The story on such occasions runs like this: idiot posts photo of their family at Ashway Gap cooking sausages for social media japes - fire starts - idiot family do not read the big sign that says, NO FIRES OR BARBECUES, as they run away - fire brigade are called in to put out large fire that has destroyed more natural habitat - police find idiot family - idiot family get told off - idiot family come back a few days later with a new barbecue. For every fire there has been in Saddleworth there has been only a handful of prosecutions. There have been plenty of slapped hands. There is a lack of education around how we deal with nature, this is largely the fault of government who think nature is something that should be controlled or concreted over. Nature is what idiots do or in this case, burn. The idea that we control nature is not only offensive but incredibly short sighted. We often talk about climate change in terms of we are killing the planet, no we are not, we are killing ourselves, nature finds a way. Nature makes us all look like we are still scratching our heads over 1 + 1.

Saddleworth Fire

However the fire started, there is no denying that it won't stop soon. This fire could rage for weeks, smouldering underground as the army stomps around helping us out. Good old army. Good old fire fighters. Good old farmers. Good old volunteers. Good old people in the community giving a hand, donating food and drink. The sheer amount of donations is boggling but we are getting ahead of the story of the flames because by Tuesday a social media war had broken out on twitter, Tameside people said it was their fire, Derbyshire people got on board and declared it belonged only to them, Mancunians said they were breathing it in and they had enough of us polluting their city, and Saddleworth came out fighting and yelling that it was on their moor, on this side of the border; then someone mentioned it was historically a Yorkshire fire and all hell broke lose. As I write this, I can hear the helicopters over the valley, dropping load after load of water. I said to Carol that it probably wouldn't get any closer but by Tuesday it had broken out over the ridge, stretching from Alphin down towards the valley. We could see the flames making their way down the hill, tiny figures before walls of heat, beating away to try and stop it. You have to ask yourself in moments like this, would you do it?

Moor fire

By Tuesday night the whole hillside was alight. Cars stopped on the road to take their own photos, have their instagram moment with the national wildfire for now the media has got wind of it, mainly because the smoke had reached Media City. I was asked to talk about it in the news and accepted one interview because I wanted to talk about the impact on the peat, and more importantly what could happen when the rain comes. I have concerns that we could see a heavy downpour hit baked ground, and the run off could turn into a land slip but that is neither here no there, only time will show if the land here echoes what has happened in other countries after a heatwave and fires. I know this, when this weather breaks, it will do so spectacularly. 

life on pig row

Wednesday fared no better, smouldering fires quickly turned to flames and by evening the smoke bank was rolling west again and we could be seen from space. Today, someone in the Isle of Man said they could smell the smoke from it and a friend forty minutes out of Newcastle texted me to say she could see it from the train she was on. It is often easy to lose sight of the real story here, to see only the smoke cloud filling the horizon. The real story for me here is not locals on camera, on social media or in the newspapers, the real story is not the wildfire but how we have responded to it. There has been humour. There has been anger. There have been tears and accusations. There has been calm in the face of destruction. There has been waves of support, love and aid. This what makes us part of this landscape, come heat or driving snow, even if it can't agree where it is geographically or historically half the time (cough-cough, Yorkshire). We will still be here when the cameras have gone, and the Mayor of Manchester has had his media moment, we will be here looking at the blackened hills waiting for the heather to grow back, the burnt areas to turn green. We will be here because there is no better place to be.

You can follow Life on Pig Row on our Facebook Page, via twitter or subscribe to our how to films on our YouTube Channel or follow the links at the top of this page. Good gardening. Good food. Good life.


  1. Wild fires can be very scary (and dangerous). Take care.