Satellites and drones to be used to detect and deter gorse fire starters

Orange fire risk warning issued as farmers are urged not to clear land by burning

Satellite images, drone footage and on the ground patrols are to be used to detect those who set gorse and scrub fires over the coming days.

As Dublin Firebrigade brought a major gorse fire under control on Howth Head on Wednesday night - one of a number of widespread fires that have broken out across the country in recent days – authorities appealed to farmers not to clear land by burning.

Conditions for the spread of fires in uplands areas, which break out annually in March and April are said to be “perfect” for forest fires after a long dry spell. It is expected to be cloudy but dry over the coming days and little rain is forecast. Winds could also cause fires to spread faster.

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed reminded people they were required to exercise within two kilometres of their home. An Orange fire risk warning issued by his department, based on weather conditions and the dry nature of gorse and undergrowth on uplands, is to remain in place until Friday at the least.


Mr Creed warned satellite imagery was being “carefully monitored”. He said it would be “an act of gross disregard for your community” to set fires and also warned that burnt land is not eligible for payment under the Basic Payment Scheme and other area-based schemes and may even negate payments on neighbouring farms.

He added that when the coronavirus restrictions are eased lands identified by satellite images and drone footage would be inspected.

Drones are also being used routinely by Coillte the State forestry company, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, local authorities and Pure, an environmental project in the Dublin and Wicklow mountains.

Wicklow Green Party TD Steven Matthews said recent fires in the Wicklow Mountains appeared to be “planned and deliberate.” He warned the fires caused huge habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity.” He added “we see this every year as agricultural land is burned to clear gorse and scrub”.

While Mr Matthews called for more supports for farmers to manage land, the party’s spokeswoman on forestry, Senator Pippa Hackett ,said the department of Agriculture was simply making “empty threats”.

“These illegal burners know that there is little or no chance of any fines or penalties, and so it continues, year in, year out. Our natural heritage deserves so much better”.

Fire crews aided by helicopters have been battling the fires for the last week in an area of Wicklow between Laragh/Glendalough and Blessington Lakes.

Wicklow chief fire officer Aidan Dempsey said many people lit multiple fires in the area in adjacent locations to ensure that the fire was extensive and spread.

“It is frustrating to have to do this while there is a pandemic on and people are making great sacrifices around the country,” he said.

Hundreds of acres of land across the Blackstairs on the Wexford/Carlow boarder have also been extensively damaged by gorse fires.

In Kerry fire fighters asked landowners not to start any gorse fires as they are diverting firefighters away from house fires, car crashes and other life threatening emergencies during the coronavirus pandemic.

Kerry’s chief fire officer Andrew Macilwraith said the service and its 100-plus firefighters were already under strain from provisions linked to the pandemic.

In Leitrim fire damage to forestry was estimated at €500,000.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist