LIZ JONES: New menace as firefights battle underground inferno

I'm on top of Saddleworth Moor, and my socks are on fire. The soles of my boots have melted. I'm wearing a face mask, but my throat is burning, my eyes streaming.

I'm embedded with A Company of the 4th Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland (4 Scots), and have just completed an hour-long march across a landscape as barren as the moon.

I assume it's safe, given I'm being led by Major Phil Morgan, but even he admits the fire is unpredictable.

The ferocious flames might have died down on this, day six, but an even more dangerous inferno is raging just a few feet below us.

Liz Jones (above) embedded with A Company of the 4th Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland (4 Scots)

Liz Jones (above) embedded with A Company of the 4th Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland (4 Scots)

Sudden tongues of flame lash out from the blistered ground, as if from nowhere, making us look as though we're dancing, not fighting the worst wild fire in living memory.

The burning heather was a sideshow. As one soldier told me: 'It's the peat that's the problem.'

Several feet of it. Its only purpose in life, it seems, is to burn.

As Fred Worrall, professor of environmental chemistry at Durham University, said last week: 'It's like setting fire to your compost heap.'

It's an environmental disaster, too: unlike an oil slick, the detritus is harder to see. But millennia of stored carbon dioxide is being released into the atmosphere. 

The fire is travelling horizontally, in secret. When a flame bursts through, a team of Greater Manchester firefighters armed only with paddles try to put it out. It looks an impossible task.

'Look at that, it's so beautiful,' the Major says during a brief moment of respite, indicating the Peak District National Park. This is a famous spot, teeming with wildlife and sheep.

Not any more. The part we're on, right in the thick of the fire, is privately owned. Every hillside is smoking for more than four miles and counting. The gamekeeper visited the day before, doubtless blaming the smoke for his tears.

The ferocious flames might have died down on this, day six, but an even more dangerous inferno is raging just a few feet below us

The ferocious flames might have died down on this, day six, but an even more dangerous inferno is raging just a few feet below us

Due to the intensity of the fire it will take ten years for the moorland to recover. There will be no shoots, grouse or green, come August 12th.

The Fire Brigade – not just from Manchester but other counties, including Yorkshire and Gloucestershire

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