A WORKER brought up on a dairy farm has used his agricultural machinery know-how to change the way firefighters tackle large moor fires.

Now a land agent for water company United Utilities, Dan Fowler was the first to spot the phenomenal potential for agricultural machinery to tackle moorland fires.

Equipment originally designed for moving thick slurry is becoming an effective weapon in tackling huge blazes in areas so remote they can stretch fire service resources to the limit.

A farmers’ armoury of pumps, pipes and tanks has proved to be the perfect equipment for getting a vast, ready supply of water hundreds of metres up and across some of the North West’s roughest, remotest and environmentally-sensitive terrain.

And with the help of discussions between the fire service, contractors and a few specially-made fittings, it has been adapted to work with the tenders and engines the firefighters use.

The idea has been called a ‘game changer’ by Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service.

Dan’s lightbulb moment came when he and the United Utilities catchment team were helping tackle a fire near Anglezarke reservoir in 2018, when 14 acres of woodland went up in smoke.

“We were assisting with the delivery of 1,000 litre tanks of water that were topped up from nearby reservoirs and dropped off at the fire with pick-ups and trailers. I thought, ‘we are making hard work of this’,” he said.

“Because I grew up on a farm, I knew the tractors, tankers and pipes we used to move slurry would be much easier, if they could be used to move water.

“A single slurry tank holds 12 times as much water as one of our static tanks, plus they have their own built-in two-way pumps, so they fill straight from the reservoir and empty into the back of a fire engine or other firefighting equipment in a fraction of the time.”

When the next even bigger fire hit at Winter Hill just days later, tractors and tankers from Taylors Contractors of Brindle near Chorley proved a vital part of a response, which lasted 43 days and involved the combined efforts of firefighters, mountain rescue teams and others, including a helicopter provided by United Utilities.

It was noted that the fire service spent a lot of time rolling out relatively short lengths of hose with lots of joints and couplings in an area that covers hundreds of acres.

Dan knew that he could do even better, by using an umbilical pipe and pumping system he’d used with his dad on the farm near Garstang, where he still farms today.

“Slurry is much thicker than water and pumping it a distance of 800-1,000 metres is fairly typical on a farm. Plus the umbilical system can be fitted with spreader plates and jetters to distribute water over a wide area to douse flames, protect woodland or create firebreaks,” he said.

With the help of Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, the United Utilities catchment team, Natural England, the tenant farmer and local agricultural contractors Wilson Farming, of Samlesbury, SG and J Entwistle of Hoddlesden and WM Wilkinson of Out Rawcliffe, Dan arranged to test his idea on a remote hillside on United Utilities’ Rivington estate near Belmont reservoir.

“In just over an hour, tractors fitted with powered hose reels had laid around 1.2km of rubber hose and were pumping between 40 and 50 thousand gallons of water every hour to a height of 120m against gravity. It was far quicker than the fire service could deploy the same distance of standard fire hose. The water could also be spread on the ground to damp down as well as just being jetted,” said Dan.

The agri equipment Dan tested, plus tracked vehicles and flails used on earlier fires, was rolled out in earnest for the first time during the lockdown blaze that raged several days over 5km of Darwen Moor in May/June, laying waste to hundreds of acres of habitat and killing hundreds of nesting birds.

Fire and Rescue Service head of fleet & engineering John Hargreaves said officers in charge of the Darwen incident were impressed by the effectiveness of Dan’s concept and the professionalism of the contractors in deploying the kit.