Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Minister in forest fires warning

In Donegal, blazes have burned over the past seven days, with about 45 gorse fires reported
In Donegal, blazes have burned over the past seven days, with about 45 gorse fires reported

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney has warned of extreme danger of forest fires in some parts of the country after scores of outbreaks in Galway, Mayo, Dublin and Donegal.

Mr Coveney said it was an unusual step to have to alert people in the forestry business and that there was no information to date on the source of many wildfires started in the last week.

In Donegal, blazes have burned over the last seven days, with about 45 gorse fires reported, most of them in the west of the county. In Galway more than 50 call-outs to gorse fires were made over the Easter weekend with homes threatened in places. Despite the colder than usual weather, a lack of rain has left forests, gorse, heather and bogland in tinder box condition

Met Eireann's fire weather index has also warned that persistent dry and windy weather meant there is a high to extreme risk for wildfires into the weekend at least.

"My department's Forest Service took the unusual step of notifying foresters, forestry companies and other stakeholders of the potential high risk fire conditions developing in recent days and I would like to reiterate that message to forest owners, farmers, turf cutters, members of the public and anyone working in or enjoying our countryside," Mr Coveney said.

"We do not have information yet on the source of the wildfires reported over the Easter weekend, but the incidents demonstrate the danger of uncontrolled fires and show that the risks of damage to property and to the rural environment and the threat to people's lives are very real. In addition, these incidents have a significant impact on the resources of our emergency services."

Department of Agriculture rules ban the burning of growing vegetation on uncultivated land between March 1 and August 31.

Mr Coveney said he wanted to remind landowners of the rule and asked people living in rural areas to be vigilant for fire, report any suspicious activity to gardai and uncontrolled or unattended fires to the Fire Service.

Later, Donegal County Council said fire crews have responded to 62 call-outs. The local authority warned that the region was at risk of gorse, hill and forestry fires over the weekend due to the ongoing weather conditions.

"Fires are likely to spread rapidly and get out of control, causing unnecessary damage and putting houses, property and possibly life at risk," a spokeswoman said. "These fires also interfere with wildlife breeding and nesting and, in many cases, can decimate the local wildlife population."

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