A HOLIDAY bonanza is expected this weekend as temperatures in the region continued to rise today.

But with the most recent rainfall just a distant memory, visitors are being warned of a serious fire risk in rural beauty spots.

York and Scarborough are expecting near record visitor numbers, despite overseas visitors continuing to shun foreign travel.

"The weather's going to be good, but not too good, and that is perfect for us," said Gillian Cruddas, chief executive of the York Tourism Bureau.

"If it's too hot people head for the coast. York is full."

David Jeffels, the executive member for leisure and tourism on Scarborough Borough Council, said: "Many of the hotels are already full and have been for many weeks."

So many visitors are expected in the North York Moors that the national park authority is urging them to use public transport to avoid major congestion.

But they are being warned that lack of rainfall has left the area tinder dry.

Acres of precious heather moorland near Grosmont, Goathland and Lockton have already been destroyed by fires this week.

Steam engines run by the North Yorkshire Moors Railway have been replaced by diesel locomotives between Levisham and Goathland because of the risk of sparks causing further fires.

Senior national park ranger Bernie McLinden said the forecast of fine weather over the next few days meant everyone should be on high alert.

"As people head out to enjoy this beautiful landscape and weather we are asking everyone to exercise extreme caution with regard to the potential fire risk."

Firefighters were inspecting acres of smouldering land near Goathland today after dozens of officers spent hours bringing a substantial fire under control there yesterday.

Richard Gunton, head of park services, said fire was devastating to the landscape and its wildlife and endangered ground-nesting birds.

He said extra warning signs had been posted and he asked rural visitors to be vigilant and report any sign of smoke or fire immediately.

He added that walkers should be careful not to drop cigarettes or matches and to take their litter home with them, while barbecues and open fires were not allowed near moorland areas.

A PA WeatherCentre forecaster said temperatures would peak today at about 23 degrees. The weekend would be pleasant but cooler, and rain could arrive on Monday.

Another 24-hour strike tomorrow by guards belonging to the biggest rail union, the RMT, could affect some Virgin CrossCountry trains to York.

Tourism Minister Kim Howells today forecast a record-breaking Easter for British resorts and leisure attractions, and said the tourism industry was "fighting back".

Updated: 11:00 Wednesday, April 16, 2003