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Claims “catastrophic” two month mountain fire could have been stopped earlier

A “catastrophic” two month mountain fire could have been stopped in its first few days if more decisive action had been taken by the fire service, a meeting has heard.

A hearing of Denbighshire council’s communities scrutiny committee into last summer’s Llantysilio mountain fire heard that it could have been stopped if fire breaks had been cut into the mountains according to local farmers.

Fire breaks are strips of land that have had vegetation cut away to stop flames from spreading.

The fire which started during last year’s record breaking summer lasted from July 19 until September 25. 290 hectares of land on the Horseshoe Pass was damaged by the fire.

Gwyn Rowlands, representing the mountain graziers, warned that the fire was not unique and he feared that it could happen again.

He said: “After meeting with the graziers I collated all the information they gave me.

“Personally I think there was a deficiency in the early stages of the fire. Had it been effectively controlled and extinguished in those early days then the secondary fires might not have happened.”

William Shuttleworth, an agent for the Llantysilio Estate, said: “The feeling from the estate point of view is that if the fire had been hit hard and fast that very first day what was a small fire would not have turned into large incident.”

Bethan Beech, of Natural Resources Wales, told the hearing that her organisation was not approached by any third parties to offer to cut fire breaks in the growth.

She added that there was an issue with the group’s own mowing equipment as it was in for a service for two weeks during August.

Evidence from the fire service said they were offered fire breaks by local farmers, but the decision was taken that this was too risky in terms of personal safety.

Llangollen county councillor, Melvyn Mile, said: “If they had cut fire breaks they could have stopped 99% of the fire. The key was to act early and decisively, but instead we had two months of fire on the Horsehoe Pass causing great distress to the residents in the immediate area.”

Cllr Rhys Hughes of Llantysilio Community Council said: “It was a catastrophic fire. Imagine the main road into Rhyl being shut on and off for a month, how would businesses there react? This was the hottest summer in a very long time.

“What a hot summer brings is a harvest for the tourist industry, they don’t always get one and there were about half a dozen businesses in the area that had to close because of this fire.”

The fire service welcomed its chance to make a statement at the committee.

Assistant Chief Fire Officer Richard Fairhead said: “There is no question that this was a challenging incident for us in terms of the unprecedented hot weather conditions, the unpredictable terrain, the vast geography, the specific nature of the fire itself, ensuring a water supply, the implications of large volumes of smoke, the demand on our resources and the need to communicate widely with the public and media, as well as with our partner organisations.

“Under these challenging circumstances I firmly believe that our response to the incident was not only a professional one but at times the commitment from our crews, as well as from their primary employers in the case of our retained firefighters, went over and above what we would normally expect from them, for which we were extremely grateful.”

Picture: Drone footage released by North Wales Fire and Rescue Service last year

By Shane Brennan – BBC Local Democracy Reporter (more here on the LDR scheme).



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