Crews dealing with wildfires could delay emergency response times

Wildfires, as a result of human activity, could affect outcomes of domestic fires and car crashes

Concerns have been raised that crews responding to wildfires started as a result of human activity could divert emergency responses from domestic fires and car crashes, possibly affecting their outcomes.

Wicklow chief fire officer Aidan Dempsey said units had been responding to multiple outbreaks in recent days but had managed them before getting out of control.

Crews successfully extinguished a field fire in Charlesland, Greystones on Friday morning.

Similar situations have arisen elsewhere as temperatures climb – Wexford fire fighters responded to a series of agriculture fires on Thursday.


“In most cases now in the last few weeks we’re reasonably confident that none of the fires are starting without human participation or input,” Mr Dempsey said.

A 100-hectare blaze at Crone Wood in Wicklow’s Glencree Valley last month, also linked to human behaviour, drew in crews from three stations, as well as air support.

“When it gets to that stage, our personal concern is that in that situation you’ve removed all fire fighting capability from three towns,” Mr Dempsey said. “If there’s a road traffic crash or a domestic fire in one of those towns, the resources that need to respond have to come from further away so you could be adding 20 minutes to the response.”

Typically, domestic fires and other incidents are met with a response time of less than 10 minutes. “In those situations it could be 20 minutes. That would be the difference between saving a property or losing a property; or, God forbid, saving a life or losing a life.”

In parts of continental Europe, the wildfire season occurs in July and August but in Ireland it is normally in March and April – regular rainfall usually wets the ground to the extent that fires are less likely to take hold in the summer months.

Mr Dempsey said that this year, and in 2018, there had been historically low moisture content in the ground.

“We are dealing with fires this time of the year that we wouldn’t normally have to deal with because they’d nearly self-extinguish,” he said. “There is a band of hot weather hitting the globe at the moment that must be, you’d have to attribute it to global warming.”

Wexford County Fire Service said it had responded to several farmland fires on Thursday, noting in particular the Cushinstown, Ferns, Crosstown, Harrow and Kilmore areas.

“These were mainly related to farm machinery operating in the dry conditions harvesting and bailing cereal crops,” it said in a statement.

In Ferns at about 4.30pm, eight units from Wexford and Wicklow responded to a blaze that had swept through more than five fields of standing grain and local woodland.

“[The] main focus was protecting houses, farmyards and other property and slowing fire spread by sectorising fires and appointing sector commanders,” it said. “Enniscorthy fire brigade responded to a rekindle in this area at approximately midnight and extinguished a small fire.”

The European Forest Fire Information Service (EFFIS) statistics show that so far this year, 2,586 hectares of land have been affected by fires, compared with an annual average of 3,261.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) said on Friday it had no current reports of wildfires on lands under its control. Nor had there been any requests to the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management team for additional resources to fight out-of-control fires during the current weather warning period.

The Air Corps has not been tasked to assist with aerial firefighting operations this week – its last mission being in the Killiney area of Dublin on July 26th.

“However, in anticipation of a tasking the Air Corps continue to conduct crew re-currency and training sorties in this discipline over the course of the last two weeks,” a spokesman said.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times