Gorse fires rage in Cork, Wicklow, Cavan and Northern Ireland
Weekend of fires across country leaves one family homeless, wildlife groups concerned
Gorse fires continued to rage in Cork, Wicklow, Cavan and parts of Northern Ireland on Monday following a weekend of large blazes across the country.
Two gorse fires broke out shortly before lunch on Monday afternoon in the west Cork towns of Skibbereen and Schull.
Dublin Fire Brigade units were called to a fire at Glassamucky mountain off Military Road en route to Glencree in Co Wicklow on Monday morning, while units from Cavan town were called to a blaze at Monesk on the Cavan/Leitrim border.
Firefighters from the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) continued to battle five small gorse fires on Monday morning in Fivemiletown in Co Tyrone, Belcoo and Clogher in Co Fermanagh, Newtownhamilton in Co Armagh and in Coleraine.
On Sunday evening, the NIFRS had to deal with a gorse fire in Co Tyrone which spread across a 5km area while also responding to a fire in Newry, Co Down on Friday night which was threatening homes and school in the area. The fire was brought under control by 2am on Saturday.
Nearly all of the gorse fires which have broken out across Northern Ireland in the past week were started deliberately, according to the Northern Irish fire service. Some 444 of the 511 gorse fires in the North over the past seven days began on purpose, said the fire service authority.
A statement from the NIFRS reminded the general public that every blaze was putting the lives of firefighters and the local community at risk.
“Deliberate fire setting has major consequences - it ties up our vital resources from other more serious incidents and potentially puts people and property at risk,” said area commander Maurice Rafferty. “These fires can easily spread and even a slight change in wind direction can pose a serious risk to life, property and the environment.”
The weekend flames left one family in Co Mayo homeless after gorse and forest fires destroyed their two-story thatched home.
BirdWatch Ireland have also expressed deep concern of the effects of the fire on wildlife and bird populations.
Noel and Bernice Brennan’s house near Kiltimagh in Co Mayo was destroyed on Friday after flaming embers carried on the wind from roadside trees landed on the roof of their home causing it to collapse into the interior of the building.
The Brennans, who have three children, bought the house in 2012 and had invested time, effort and money into improving and refurbishing the residence.
The work of units from Mayo Fire Brigade was hampered by a lack of local water sources with extra water being ferried by special tanker to the blaze location.
In Sligo, a large gorse fire that raged on a mountain in Sligo for more than 30 hours was brought under control on Friday.
The fire, which occurred at Killery near Ballintogher, was described as “devastating” to the natural beauty of the local area.
It took the work of four units from the Sligo fire service along with units from Leitrim and Donegal to bring the fire under control.
The Sligo Coast Guard helicopter, Rescue 118, also took part in the operation.
No injuries have been reported from the fires which have also blazed across parts of Dublin, Roscommon, Kerry and Galway.
Impact on wildlife
Wildlife groups have laid the blame for the latest outbreaks on members of the hill farming community who they say start fires to clear heather from their land.
However, chairman of the Irish Farmers’ Association’s (IFA) hill farming committee Pat Dunne said farmers could not be blamed for recent gorse fires.
“The hills are like kindling now,” he told RTÉ News at One. “There is a huge amount of vegetation now on the mountains because it was not cleared or burned.
“We have been warning and trying to get through to the powers that be that this type of thing is likely to happen.”
Mr Dunne added that the current date for halting controlled burning was ineffective as growth took place after that date. Burning is illegal between March 1st and August 31st under section 40 of the Wildlife Act 1976. Minister for Heritage Heather Humphreys is proposing a two-year pilot law which would allow cutting, destroying and removal of hedgerows in August and burning in the uplands in March.
Spokesman for the Irish Wildlife Trust Pádraic Fogarty said the damage being cause was “enormous” and that there was an urgent need for a solution.
He added that about half of the fires were happening in areas that have some of the highest levels of protection for areas of natural conservation in Europe and that there needed to be stronger statements by farmers’ organisations, but also from politicians, who had been “totally silent”.
Mr Fogarty said the Wildlife Trust had established through records obtained under freedom of information legislation that no farmers have been penalised for setting fires.
“They are getting away with it. Evidence is difficult to find.”
He claimed that already this year more than 60 fires had occurred between March and the beginning of May.
The Irish Wildlife Trust has called on farming organisations and politicians to act immediately to protect wildlife and halt the destruction caused by gorse fires.
Oonagh Duggan of BirdWatch Ireland said the impact of burning on birds of upland heather habitats and gorse scrub habitats varied depending on the time of the year, and could be “severe”.
““The impacts on birds which will have begun breeding in March, April and May include the burning of nests, eggs and chicks, the destruction of habitat which birds forage in to feed themselves and their chicks.”
Fire Brigade Units continue to call on the public to exercise extreme caution with matches and lighters in the countryside.
The warm, dry weather which aggravated many of the gorse fires over the weekend is expected to continue through to Thursday when light rainfall will begin to fall across the country. There will also be some rain on Friday accompanied by sunny spells and southeasterly breezes.
Temperatures will fall slightly through the week and will range between the low and mid teens on Friday and Saturday.