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Out of the Ashes of the Fylingdales Fire – Five Days That Shook the Moor

Poster A4smallThe five days from 17 – 21 September 2003 saw a huge fire devastate part of Fylingdales Moor on the North York Moors, stretching from the A171, where it is believed to have started due to a discarded cigarette, to near the coast at Ravenscar. In total 2.4 square kilometres of moorland and fragile peat soil were affected.

To mark the 10th anniversary of the fire, events were held on Saturday the 21 and Sunday 22 of September at Ravenscar Village Hall and on the moor itself by the Hawk and Owl Trust (HOT) and the Staintondale and Ravenscar Local History Group. Through the use of photographs, Bronze Age artefacts and stone carving replicas, the Village Hall display concentrated on the fire itself, including the destruction and the archaeology that this uncovered.

Wildlife Ranger Chris Hansell organised the HOT display, on the Sunday, focussing on the moor’s recovery. It featured the HOT stand with Outreach Officer Tanya Eyre and a photographic display showing moorland management and flora and fauna using Chris’ own photographs. Moorland Keeper David Hutton was also in attendance with the HOT fire fighting equipment. To supplement this Peter Bloom, who is a HOT supporter, brought along two of his captive bred Barn Owls which proved a great success with the public. As well as having their photograph taken with the owls they were entertained by Peter’s tales about various species of owl.

Robin Hood's Bay Fire Crew with HOT staff
Robin Hood’s Bay Fire Crew with HOT staff

The local fire crew, from Robin Hood’s Bay, brought along their unit and two of the crew told of their involvement in the fire and how they were the first on the scene when it started and the last to leave when it was all over. There were tales of how after two days the Brigade went from an offensive approach to tackling the fire to a defensive one, so vast was the task. Fire engines worked in relay to get water to the moor and at one point a helicopter was called in to assist. At the peak over 100 fire engines were in attendance with every unit in North Yorkshire present and others coming from as far away as Lancashire.

Once the fire was ‘out’ units were still in attendance 24 hours a day to ensure that there were no further outbreaks and one fireman told how, after finishing his regular shift he was photographed holding a pillow as he prepared to come onto the moor to carry out the night watch! During the talk a local couple whose house was in the line of the fire told how they had a unit from Cumbria stationed outside for several days.

In the afternoon Chris led a well attended guided walk along the Stoupe Brow Trail to show much of the area affected and to talk about the history of the moor highlighting how the flora and fauna have recovered since. The ‘cup and ring’ carved stones which can still be seen, burial mounds, marker stones and gullies and reservoirs for the nearby Alum works were all pointed out. Locals Paul Ming and Roger Tordoff, along with Chris Hall from Scarborough Archaeological Society, added further nuggets of information.

A great time was had by all in attendance removed and before they left Chris was talking to one of the fire crew, who just happened to be HOT Keeper David Hutton’s uncle, about how it was getting hard to tell which tracks on the moor are from 18th century carts, 20th century tanks or the units used to put out the fire. But as David said “It’s all part of the history of the moor now!”

A big thanks to all involved particularly Tracy, Chris’ wife, who helped in the preparation and on the day.

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