QUESTIONS have been raised over the response to the Llantysilio mountain fire.

Residents and business owners from communities near the Llantysilio fire, which has devastated around 60 acres of grassland in the area, have expressed concerns that the fire could have been extinguished within 10 days had authorities been willing to accept offers from nearby farmers for water and equipment supplies capable of making a significant contribution to reducing the fire.

A lack of leadership and management by authorities North Wales Fire and Rescue Service, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and Denbighshire County Council (DCC) was questioned by the residents at a public meeting organised by Martyn Holland, councillor for Llanarmon-yn-Iâl and Llandegla at The Crown in Llandegla on Monday, August 20.

Cllr Holland has already called for an emergency meeting with Denbighshire highways, senior officers and county councillors, as well as a further meeting with NRW, the fire service and DCC.

A new call by county councillors Graham Timms and Melvyn Miles, who have written to Judith Greenhalgh, Denbighshire chief executive for a scrutiny committee and two further enquiries into a number of agencies involved in managing the response to the fire which is hoped to take place within a matter of weeks and has the backing of Cllr Holland.

At the public meeting, Cllr Holland said that during the fire he was unaware of any offer made by the farming community to help authorities and that the decision-making process in refusing those offers needs to be investigated.

He said: “The fire has had a massive impact on the area’s wildlife, livestock, tourism, business, residents, graziers, and potentially to property and life.

“There is a feeling of isolation, that the community is not supported and that this could happen again.

“If an offer was made for services I do not understand why that would have been turned down. That is something that the scrutiny committee will have to consider.

“The impression given by the fire service in week one was that the situation was under control. There are concerns that this was not expressed to residents, however.”

Cllr Holland said the decision-making process by NRW, the fire service and the county council would be “scrutinised very closely”.

“We will look at the lessons that can be learned,” he added.

Stewart Davies, former county councillor and mayor of Llangollen who is well-acquainted with the farming community has been critical of NRW’s prevention of farmers carrying out controlled fires on the grasslands, which can help to prevent more serious long-grass fires from occurring. He said: “My farmer friends who offered their services are afraid to speak out against NRW.

“The fire could have been stopped within two to ten days by cutting fire breaks, but this required the approval of NRW, which was not given.

“If controlled fires were carried out like they used to be then this would not have happened at all.

“NRW says they want to protect the black grouse there by stopping controlled fires and cutting fire breaks, but this has proven to be the wrong approach.

“They only see one way and that is their way.”

Mr Davies said that he was told by the fire service a full response was not possible due to “financial considerations”, adding: “This is an issue for the fire commanders to address, not the firefighters.

“And whilst all this is going on there remains a real danger of another fire starting east of the Horseshoe Pass towards Penycae. Fire breaks need to be cut there immediately,” he said.

It is understood that around six farmers offered their services to the authorities, but all wish to remain anonymous.

A nearby farmer, who asked not to be named, said “any offers made were turned down”.

“We had people mobilised and ready. We could have provided 3,000 gallons of water every ten minutes.

“It was not until the last days that large amounts of water were being pumped onto the fire.

“They were blinkered in what resources to call upon.”

Paul Williams, chairman of NFU Cymru Clwyd County said: “Local farmers were obviously keen to help in any way possible to assist the fire crews involved, as many had a vested interest by watching their summer and autumn grazing land rapidly turning into a smouldering wasteland on a massive scale.

“It seems that their genuine offer of help was not required nor welcomed.”

Mr Williams noted the “tireless work of local firefighting crews, working extra-long shifts” but that while the “differences of opinion” between farmers and decision-makers continued, “more and more habitat was being lost”.

The delayed response from the authorities has fuelled concerns over the value of the site to authorities, as it was not until the fire closed in on properties that significant action was taken.

Sam Clemence, co-owner of Ponderosa Café that had to be evacuated due to advancing smoke and flames from the wildfire that was approaching his premises, felt there was a disconnect between firefighters on the ground and those in charge who were “happy to let it burn”. “The firefighters wanted to get on the moor and put the fire out but they were told otherwise,” he added.

One resident commented that “firefighters didn’t put the fire out, it put itself out”.

Concerns were also raised that there was a lack of communication from the fire service to residents.

Mel Barban, owner of The Crown pub in Llandegla, seemed to voice the feeling of the majority of attendees that “when we wanted to find out information the authorities would not communicate”.

Another business owner said: “They were happy to call at half seven in the morning for a bacon butty but they didn’t want to hear from us.”

In response to the comments made at the public meeting, Stuart Millington, senior operations manager for North Wales Fire and Rescue Service said: “At large scale grass and gorse fires NWFRS work in partnership with our colleagues in NRW and consider a variety of short, medium and long-term implications before implementing a tactical plan that seeks to resolve these incidents.

“This did include some work to cut fire breaks in strategic locations. Whilst we are grateful for the offer of help from local farmers, resources provided to implement this tactical plan and cut any firebreaks were provided by our partners and were considered to be sufficient.”

Addressing concerns over the lack of communication with residents, Mr Millington said: “During any large scale incident it is very difficult to maintain regular face to face updates for all the people who are effected, however during this period we did utilise social media, as well as radio and TV interviews to provide regular updates as to the progress of the incident.

“The scale of operations and the efforts required to bring this type of incident under control should not be underestimated and I would like to commend our firefighters for working extremely hard, for extended periods, during excessively high temperatures and over arduous terrain.

“Whilst I understand some of the frustrations that have been expressed, unfortunately disruption is an inevitable part of any large incident. Just to reiterate I am immensely proud of the crews from across North Wales who have worked tirelessly at this and other incidents throughout the summer period.”

A spokesperson for Denbighshire County Council said: “The Council was aware of the meeting which was arranged by one of our councillors to gather feedback on the incident from local residents.

“It is inappropriate for us to comment further at this time. While we continue to work with our partners to monitor and manage hotspots we would urge people to avoid the mountain other than marked footpaths.”

Dawn Beech, acting operations manager for North East Wales at NRW, said: “Mynydd Llantysilio is really important to both people and wildlife. It is home to rare birds like the black grouse, provides grazing areas for local farmers and is popular with walkers.

“We have worked with Denbighshire countryside service, RSPB and farmers over recent years to cut heather for the grouse, to improve grazing areas for sheep and to help reduce fire risk.

“During the fire, our staff worked with North Wales Fire and Rescue Service (NWFRS)and Denbighshire Countryside Services to cut back vegetation and create fire breaks to try and stop the fire spreading.

“Approximately half the mountain was burnt and the peatland areas have been particularly badly affected. NWFRS remain on site monitoring the area.

“When we have confirmation that the fires are out we will carry out a full survey of the mountain to see how we can help the area recover, and we’ll be working with the other organisations involved to carry out a review of our response.”