‘The mountain fires of 1976: it’s the only time I’ve seen the fires going on the tops of the trees…’

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Len remembers 1976 and coming back from holiday to start back at work as a fire fighter, fighting fires in the hills. Sometimes, because of the weather conditions, “you didn’t know where you’d end up.” Len remembers one fire when the peat caught fire, requiring a bulldozer, and trees catching fire, “spontaneously”.

You could only have a shower in the day and my recollection of it is started in April and went right through to September. I suppose I was lucky, I’d come back off a holiday and I was putting my kit on and getting ready and one of the lads said ‘don’t bother with that, Len – you’re driving today.’ About one o’clock in the day we got called on the allotments in Six Bells and we arrived there about dinner time. Somebody had started a little fire, burning some rubbish off, I expect, in the allotment, and it spread.

There was three other in the crew besides me and I got a vivid picture of them climbing over the fence. The wind changed and there were 3 firemen diving back over the fence. It’s the only time I’ve seen the fires going on the tops of the trees and in no time at all it had gone to the top of the mountain and we were there then roughly from one o’clock to seven o’clock in the evening and when the lads come back it was like they’d worked in the pit. Absolutely black. That would be roughly about August, I expect, of ’76. And when we were on the mountain, we didn’t put our Fire kit on because it was so hot we just had overalls and a T-shirt and a hat. Well, you can imagine in the night once the temperature dropped…From the view up there you get a good look down to the Neath Valley and you could see the forest fires, or the smoke from their forest fires, from the mountaintops. So, about 11 o’clock gets out the [devilment], I put the blue flasher on, and you could see the blue flashing lights coming along the mountaintops!

Well, normally, you only operated in our area but once ’76 come you, you didn’t know where you was gonna finish up. That particular night we were on the mountain and the fire at that time wasn’t in the forestry, it was in the peat. So we’ve been up there all night and one of the forestry workers came along and I said we’re wasting our time trying to use shovels to dig this peat out, you wanna get a bulldozer and make a fire break right across the top before it goes into the forestry and his reply was, ‘Oh we’ve got to work out the cost of getting a bulldozer to clear it or just let it burn, like.’ I mean, you was so busy at the time and that’s the only time I saw trees going up on the tops, trees right up at the top of the mountain, and at [name] when we had spontaneous combustion, you know, you couldn’t blame anybody for lighting that – it just started up itself.

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