Dense rhododendron on Torc Mountain in the Killarney National Park acted as a firebreak and prevented Saturday morning's gorse fire from spreading to nearby oak, beech and pine woodlands.
Fire crews from Killarney and Killorglin spent 13-and-a-half hours battling the fire, which destroyed valuable natural habits that could take decades to recover, according to local wildlife rangers.
Rhododendron ponticum, an invasive species which is so dense on the mountain that walkers have sometimes become lost in it, is usually a headache for park management but this time proved to be a saviour.
Kerry 's chief fire officer John Hegarty said the wall of rhododendron, along with winds that eased in the hours after the fire began, were key elements in bringing a halt to the blaze which destroyed hundreds of acres.
Early evidence indicated that the Torc fire was not started on grazing land, he said. Young hares, nesting birds and lizards were burnt alive on Torc. There were fires also on grazing land and commonage at nearby Coolies in Muckross.
Mountain habitats take years, possibly decades, to recover from wildfires, with some of the rarest species being very vulnerable, Killarney conservation ranger Peter O’Toole said yesterday.
Gorse fires in Kerry reached their highest number in 2010/11, when the fire brigade was called out on 650 occasions. Last year, however, the number had dropped to 175 on the back of education and publicity.
The council the NPWS and the Department of Agriculture are part of an inter-agency group set up in 2011/2012 after a record year of wildfire and gorse burning threatened the national park and other areas.
“GPS co-ordinates from the fires this weekend are being sent to the Department of Agriculture for cross comparison to see if any of the burnt land is being put forward for grants such as REPS,” Mr Hegarty said.