Belfast Telegraph

Help us catch the arsonists who sparked gorse fires, says minister

By John Mulgrew

Mountain fires spreading across areas of Northern Ireland and putting lives at risk are thought to have been started deliberately.

Environment Minister Alex Attwood appealed to the public to come forward with information and said that the risk to life was very real — describing the blazes as a “serious situation”.

On Wednesday firefighters tackled two large fires — one at Camlough Mountain and another at Mallaboy Lane in Dunloy, Co Antrim, with smaller blazes on Black Mountain in Belfast.

Six fire engines were called to deal with the Camlough Mountain blaze, which spread to a forest nearby.

A PSNI spokesman said it’s believed the fires were arson.

Yesterday Mr Attwood said a tough message was now needed in order to catch those responsible.

He said: “In the Assembly on Monday of this week I warned of the increased risk of gorse fires given the weather, and I urged all to be vigilant and responsible. My concern was justified.

“People with information must report what they know. If not, risk will only increase. Whoever might be involved, local or visitor, must be identified and apprehended.”

He said “proactive measures” taken by the Fire Service working with groups such as the Belfast Hills Partnership needed to be rolled out to other areas to prevent future fires.

Newry and Mourne Sinn Fein councillor Pat McGinn said that people and homes were at risk as emergency services “are already at breaking point”.

“If it is proved to be the case that these mountain fires were started deliberately, those behind them must stop, and do so immediately,” he added.

Forest Service staff had worked alongside firefighters using beating equipment to try to contain the blaze close to Newry. It’s understood crews took around 45 minutes to reach the fire on foot due to the remote location.

The Fire Service said the current warm weather and dry conditions “provided a tinderbox landscape” with conditions “ripe for gorse fires to take hold”.

Assistant chief fire officer Dale Ashford said fires across Northern Ireland had a drastic impact upon the organisation’s resources.

“Dealing with these types of incidents puts not only firefighters' lives at risk, but the lives of everyone in the local community,” he added.

“These fires can easily spread and even a slight change in wind direction can pose a serious risk to life, property and the environment.”

background

Some £8m was spent on tackling fire across Northern Ireland last year — with the cost of battling deliberate fires put at £28m in the last three financial years. At its peak during the first bank holiday weekend last May, the Fire and Service received a call every 45 seconds. It said that last year saw the number of gorse fires it attended drop by a third compared to the previous year.

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