Large gorse fire threatened school in Co Down

Firefighters believe vast majority of 221 gorse fires it fought in one week were set deliberately

Gorse fires are a problem at the moment on the island from Co Antrim to  Co Kerry. Pictured is a recent gorse fire in Gougane Barra valley, Co Cork. Photograph: Neil Lucey/PA

Gorse fires are a problem at the moment on the island from Co Antrim to Co Kerry. Pictured is a recent gorse fire in Gougane Barra valley, Co Cork. Photograph: Neil Lucey/PA

 

Firefighters in the North believe 92 per cent of the 221 gorse fires it has responded to in less than a week were set deliberately.

The latest large gorse fire the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) responded to threatened homes and a school in County Down before 60 firefighters brought it under control in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Fire crews were called to the blaze near St Mary’s High School in Newry just before 9pm on Friday. A number of roads were closed, it is thought some properties were evacuated, and it was reported that tearful local residents looked on anxiously as the fire spread close to their homes. The fire was brought under control by 2am.

As Ireland’s sunny, dry weather continues the NIFRS says this has “provided a tinderbox landscape with conditions ripe for gorse fires to take hold”.

According to the fire service, since Monday, May 1st its staff have attended 221 gorse and wildland fires, compared to 19 for the same period last year. It is thought 92 per cent of gorse fires attended this week were started deliberately.

The majority of these incidents (177) occurred in either its Southern (112) or Western (65) area commands. Downpatrick and Lurgan have been the busiest fire stations, with 26 and 22 incidents respectively.

NIFRS area commander Maurice Rafferty said tackling gorse and wildland fires is “extremely challenging” and focusing resources on it potentially puts lives and property at risk elsewhere across the North. “We are appealing to the public, and young people in particular, to support their fire and rescue service by acting responsibly.”

The PSNI is urging those involved to consider the possible consequences of their actions on their communities. Superintendent Emma Bond said: “Gorse fires have the potential to cause widespread damage to the environment and harm to wildlife, as well as threatening homes, farms and the people living in those areas.

“The unpredictability of fire can also mean that those setting them may be putting their own lives at risk as well as the lives of the fire service personnel and other emergency services tasked to deal with them.

“There can also be untold consequences to tying up crucial emergency resources that may be needed elsewhere.”

Anyone with information about deliberate gorse fires is asked to contact their local police station by calling 101.