A teenager has claimed online to have started a fire on historic Cavehill in Belfast which spread over three acres of land.
An online image of a youth clutching a smoking piece of wood is captioned with the claim that two people ignited the blaze which took hold on Monday evening.
Up to 25 firefighters tackled the outbreak, which was started deliberately, according to the Fire Service.
It is now feared a rare plant discovered in the Belfast Hills for the first time in more than two centuries — along with hundreds of other species — could be under threat following the inferno.
The blaze was sparked only 48 hours after the Belfast Hills Partnership hosted a City Council-funded event to survey and identify wildlife in the area. More than 500 species — including rare and important plants and animals — were recorded during the so-called ‘bioblitz’.
The area was earmarked for the study due to its vast array of wildlife, which includes badgers, bats, birds of prey and insects.
Among the species noted was a the rare plant ‘mossy saxifrage’ — not seen in the area for more than 200 years.
As part of the event, a land-health survey walk was undertaken over the site that later suffered damage in Monday’s blaze.
Jim Bradley of the Belfast Hills Partnership said he was dismayed by the incident and called on the public to remain vigilant.
He said the area had been the target of repeated attacks and suffered “devastating effects”. “It is particularly dismaying that we were up on Cavehill recording over 500 species on Saturday — confirming how vital and important this wildlife site is,” he explained.
“Of course, we say again that lighting fires poses a real danger for people using the Belfast Hills and also for those setting the fires — especially with cliff edges present in Cavehill Country Park.”
Mr Bradley said he wanted to thank the public for calling the emergency services, and the Fire Service for its “prompt attendance and bringing the blaze under control”.
“We ask the public to remain vigilant and phone 999 when they see a hill fire,” he added.
“We hope we can educate and help reduce the instances of gorse fires in the Belfast Hills in future, but we do need the public’s help in doing this.”
Thugs stopping repairs to vandalised hydrants
Enoughwater to fill a swimming pool is being lost every day in Belfast as teens vandalise hydrants during the heatwave — and then stop them from being fixed.
Hundreds of homes in the north and west of the city have suffered disruption to supplies with more than 50 water hydrants vandalised since the start of the latest sunny spell.
Amidst soaring temperatures, some three-quarters-of-a-million litres of clean water has been lost a day down the drains since last Thursday.
According to NI Water, staff have been prevented from fixing burst hydrants by teenagers who have been threatening and violent towards them.
Ronnie Glendinning of NI Water said that communities across the city were suffering, with many losing their water supply as a result.
“People don’t realise it’s not just harmless fun. The damage ranges from low water pressure to no water for local businesses, to not having water for the Fire Service,” he added.
“It ranges from young children and teenagers who do it on a sunny day, to older groups in the evening who are threatening the staff who try and turn them off. They then have to leave them because they are in danger.”
NI Water has already received some 200 calls from the public — many who have been left without any supply — and has said the cost to the taxpayer is likely to run into the thousands.
Mr Glendinning said that lives could be threatened if a hydrant was unavailable during a blaze in the area.
“Opening fire hydrants is not only extremely dangerous for the people living in an area if a fire was to break out, but also a huge inconvenience to those whose water supply is affected as a result,” he said.
“Teams of staff had to attend over 50 sites to close hydrants, often requiring support from PSNI or community representatives.
“The cost to NI Water, and ultimately the taxpayer, will run into thousands of pounds if this continues through the summer.”