Public warned of prosecution as gorse fires continue to burn

Authorities monitoring fires across country using satellites

Connemara residents foot and stack their turf as forest and gorse fires approach. Video: Joe O'Shaughnessy

 

As gorse fires continue to rage in many areas, landowners and the public have been warned it is illegal to burn any vegetation growing on land during certain periods.

Anybody found burning vegetation between March 1st and August 31st is liable to prosecution by the Garda.

There have been more than 100 serious gorse and forest fires in recent weeks, partly due to a prolonged dry spell since the beginning of April and average rainfall at 25 per cent of normal levels for this time of year.

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said his department had issued a number of fire danger notices to the forestry sector since the beginning of March, including elevating the risk to “Red” on May 2nd.

He said the gorse fires were monitored through a combination of EU Copernicus and US Nasa data streams which had detected more than 50 illegal fire locations using satellite data up to April 21st.

Nasa tweet

“An indication of the scale of the problem is that this number represents just under half of the total known fire locations to that date,” he said.

Satellite imagery of the gorse fires. The images are from May 9th. The red marks are called "thermal anomalies" or, as most people would say, fires. Image courtesy of NASA
Satellite imagery of the gorse fires. The images are from May 9th. The red marks are called "thermal anomalies" or, as most people would say, fires. Image courtesy of NASA

Minister for Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Heather Humphreys said deliberate or uncontrolled fires can destroy habitats, wildlife, farm land and farm structures and can threaten homes and lives.

“There is a huge cost to this reckless behaviour not just to physical property, but also the cost of disruption to normal emergency services operations.”

Arrested

Most of the fires are around counties Galway, Sligo and Roscommon as well as west Cork and Donegal, although fires have occurred in many other parts. Authorities in the North are also tackling a large number of fires. One man was arrested in relation to fires in Co Tyrone on Tuesday.

The most significant fire remains at Cloosh Valley, Co Galway, which has threatened the welfare of homes and local communities as well as causing devastation to vast areas of wildlife habitat. Fire has affected about 3,500 hectares of forest and bog land, with firefighters continuing to bring it under control.

Fire rages at Cloosh Valley in Connemara on Tuesday. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy
Fire rages at Cloosh Valley in Connemara on Tuesday. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Bantry Fire Brigade was forced to deal with a fire near Aughaville for three hours on Tuesday night. “It was a fairly run of the mill gorse fire, it was heading for forest but it was stopped advancing,” said Cormac Daly of Cork County Fire Service said.

Fire services also attended Buncrana and Inishowen in Co Donegal on Tuesday night.

Bantry Fire Brigade crew dealing with gorse fire near Aughaville on Tuesday
Bantry Fire Brigade crew dealing with gorse fire near Aughaville on Tuesday

Gerard Murphy, managing director of Coillte Forest, said he believed most of the fires had been started deliberately either through the burning of vegetation or maliciously. “I’m quite confident to say that most of them are deliberate,” he said.

The scorched land with the wind turbines at Cloosh Valley behind as members of the Defence Forces make their way across bogland after extinguishing gorse fires near Inverin in Connemara on Wednesday. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy
The scorched land with the wind turbines at Cloosh Valley behind as members of the Defence Forces make their way across bogland after extinguishing gorse fires near Inverin in Connemara on Wednesday. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

The Office of Emergency Planning has also issued a warning: “With the current dry spell the risk of fire is high. Please stay away from gorse/forest fires and report any fires immediately – stay safe.”