Irish Times view: risk of wildfires demands vigilance

Events in Greece provide a salutary lesson in what can go disastrously wrong

Drone footage shot on Thursday (July 26) showed the extent of the devastation after a deadly wildfire ripped through the Greek coastal area of Rafina, killing at least 83 people. Video: FlyGreeceDrone

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Relaxing wildfire vigilance at this time, because of scattered rainfall events in parts of the country, would be a serious mistake. The potential for a threat to human life and homes and significant financial loss through forest fires and out-of-control fires in gorse and dry vegetation remains high. Parts of the south and east remain most at risk. But the prolonged dry spell has shrunk many rivers to a trickle and provided an abnormal amount of combustible vegetation, even in western areas.

Teagasc continues to warn farmers that the potential for forest fires remains at “condition orange” – high risk/be prepared – while holidaymakers and campers have been cautioned by the fire services about the use of barbecues and open fires in areas that have dry vegetation. Events of last weekend saw the burning of 13 acres of beachside land at Curracloe in Co Wexford and provide a useful warning of the dangers involved. On that occasion, hundreds of visitors and holidaymakers had to vacate the beach at speed as fire spread through the sand dunes and threatened lives, mobile homes and local businesses. It was great good fortune that no injuries or fatalities were involved. The cause of the fire is being investigated by the Garda.

Events in Greece, where wildfires have caused dozens of deaths in recent days – including that of Irishman Brian O’Callaghan-Westropp – and devastated large areas, provide a salutary lesson in what can go disastrously wrong. In Ireland, we are not accustomed to extended dry periods with high temperatures. But, in the context of global warming, we should modify our casual behaviour regarding open fires and outdoor activities.

Alreardy this summer, gorse and heather fires in the Wicklow mountains have caused considerable damage, while others at Puck’s Castle, Saggart and Bray Head have threatened homes and disrupted traffic. Cooler temperatures and rain showers have brought some relief and further rainfall is expected over the next few days. But while soil moisture deficits remain high, particular care is required in the use of naked flame.

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