A DISPOSABLE barbecue may have been to blame for a massive moorland fire which destroyed 70,000 trees, it has been revealed.

Now United Utilities bosses are advising people across Lancashire not to start fires through carelessness.

Lancashire firefighters have been stretched the limit in recent days battling blazes on Belmont Moors, Stacksteads, Haslingden and several places on Anglezarke and Wheelton Moors.

At Anglezarke 70,000 trees were destroyed as the blaze spread across 1,970-acres of moorland and 30 acres of woodland.

The timing of the fires could not have been worse for breeding birds, with many ground and woodland nests burned in the flames.

However, a helicopter commissioned by United Utilities helped save some woodland areas from being destroyed and rangers using specialist 4x4 vehicles and expert knowledge of the terrain transported firefighters around the area.

Bryan Homan, United Utilities’ catchment operations manager, said: “In all likelihood the cause of the fires will have been something which has been carelessly discarded, possibly a cigarette or a disposable barbecue set, which in this kind of weather have the potential to create fires and cause a lot of damage in a short space of time.

“Consequently we are urging visitors to our land to please act responsibly when visiting countryside areas.

“Current conditions created the ideal environment for the fires to spread over a prolonged period of time, but the fire brigade has been very effective in tackling them and I am proud of the contribution our countryside rangers, tenants and gamekeepers made in helping the fire brigade to get affected areas under control.”

He said it was expected that the moorland would recover quite quickly over the next few weeks, but that arrangements would have to be made to replant trees where woodlands have been damaged.