The massive moorland fire in Saddleworth is now being investigated as arson.
Fire crews have spent more than a week tackling the blaze in extremely challenging weather conditions.
Police now say witnesses reported people lighting a bonfire at around 7.30pm on Sunday 24 June on the moors near the Stalybridge estate and officers are currently pursuing this as a possible line of enquiry.
“The moorland fire is now being investigated as arson following information from local witnesses and initial inquiries.” “The scale of this fire is exceptional and we are treating it with the utmost seriousness. “That said, we are under no illusion that solid evidence as to where the fire started and what was the cause, will not be easy to establish. “The areas we have been able to look include dusty ash, burnt peat and grass and, because of this, our work with the fire service will be painstaking. “We recognise the incredible support that the emergency services have received and we now hope that the local community can help us further by getting in touch with any information that could help our investigation.
“Specialist fire investigation officers at Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service are working closely with Greater Manchester Police to investigate the suspected arson in the moorlands in Tameside. “Firefighters are working in extremely difficult and challenging circumstances in Tameside and I can’t praise crews enough – they’ve done a fantastic job and are continuing to work hard to put out the multiple fires across the moorlands. “I would like to urge the public to be really careful with barbecues, discarded cigarettes and glass bottles in the countryside, fires in the moorlands can spread rapidly so it’s important that we take extra care.”
Soldiers drafted in to help Greater Manchester firefighters tackle the Saddleworth Moor blaze will continue their temporary roles until the end of the week.
Around 100 troops from the Royal Regiment of Scotland have been involved in the operation in Tameside, including digging trenches in an effort to stop the moorland fires spreading.
On Wednesday there were 45 firefighters on the scene who were using specialist equipment and vehicles to extinguish the remaining pockets of fire, said GMFRS.
Firefighters are being supporting by two helicopters from United Utilities which are continuing to dampen down targeted areas.
GMFRS firefighters and others from around the country are also supporting colleagues from Lancashire to maintain control of a similar blaze at Winter Hill near Bolton which broke out when two moorland
fires either side of the hill merged on Saturday because of increased wind speed.
Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service said 20 crews were at Winter Hill on Wednesday as they continue to tackle smouldering areas.
A 22-year-old man arrested by Lancashire Police on suspicion of starting one of the Winter Hill fires has been released under investigation.
Anyone with any information is asked to contact police on 0161 856 9353, alternatively call 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.