FIREFIGHTERS had to battle to stop blazing heather spreading to a busy rail line.

Fire crews from Wrexham and Chirk fought to prevent flames from spreading after arsonists sparked a fire in a field near the Shrewsbury line, just off Llangollen Road, Acrefair, at about 3.30pm yesterday.

They found a large area of heather ablaze along with two large bales of straw, with flames rapidly spreading from the field to grass and shrubs along the nearby rail track.

The incident caused delays for passengers using the service Shrewsbury and Wrexham.

Fire crews from Wrexham were unable to drive the fire engine across the field to reach the seat of the fire and, as there was no other readily available supply of water, they had to use beaters to put out the flames.

A 4x4 vehicle from Chirk then arrived at the scene with a supply of water on board, which was used to damp down the blackened heather.

Crew manager Wayne Vernon, who was in charge of the tackling the blaze, said: "It looks like the fire, which destroyed a large quantity of heather and straw, was started deliberately. At one point the fire was only 15-20 metres from the railway line.

"If it had got on to the line we would have had to contact Network Rail and ask them close it to trains.

"It was therefore our priority to stop this happening.

"The field and the embankment were both well alight when we got here but we jus got to work with the beaters."

He added: "We had the incident under control within about half an hour."

A spokesman from Network Rail said the blazed caused slight delays between Wrexham and Shropshire.

“The fire brigade is currently investigating the cause of the incident,” he added.

Firefighters also tackled a grass fire measuring 1,000 square metres at Rock Road, Rhosymedre, which broke out at around 2.30pm. The cause of the blaze was accidental.

According to spokesman Terry Williams, valuable North Wales Fire and Rescue Service resources are being tied up time and time again dealing with incidents where controlled burning fires have escalated out of control.

Mr Williams said: “To reduce such instances, on the day of the intended burn we are asking that landowners inform fire service control of the location of the burn - this will prevent time and recourses being wasted by the fire service attending a controlled fire.

“The fire service is also urging visitors to the countryside to take extra care when they are out and about and reduce the risk of fire.

“Remember - setting fires is a criminal offence and we are actively working alongside North Wales Police to combat deliberate incidents, employing the police helicopter to pinpoint the fires and to look out for perpetrators."

Anyone with information should call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.