Mournes blaze was work of arsonists
The cost of a fire that swept through Mournes woodland after being started deliberately is still being calculated.
More than 40 firefighters battled the blaze at Moneyscalp Forest, near Bryansford, on Friday night, managing to prevent it from spreading to mature forest.
High winds caused the inferno to flare up again on Saturday, but 13 firefighters and two fire appliances brought it under control.
Firefighters called on those responsible to halt their activities, warning it could cost lives.
Area commander John Allen said: “This is costing in terms of money. It is costing in terms of damage to the environment. I would ask those who are engaged in deliberate fire-setting to stop.
“You are endangering the lives of our firefighters — you are endangering this environment.”
He said it is the fourth time that stretch of woodland has been targeted in six weeks.
“Every year that forest comes under attack. Someone is aware of what’s going on and could influence those doing it, so we would ask them to bring their influence to bear and get them to stop.”
Mark Parker, of the Forest Service, said such fires posed a huge risk to wildlife.
“This whole area is inhabited by many species of birds and their nests are at risk,” he said.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood has condemned those who were behind the blaze.
“The PSNI believe this was a deliberate act of arson,” he said.
“Knowing that the hills would be busy with people making the most of the good weather I find that particularly shocking.
“It would also have had a devastating effect on wildlife,” he said.
The minister said more needs to be done to co-ordinate a response to the threat of wildfires.
“I set up a Task Force last year following the wildfires in 2011 to examine what further measures can be taken to reduce the extent of wildfires,” he said.
“Good work is being done by the Fire and Rescue Service, Forest Service, Belfast Hills Partnership and Mourne Heritage Trust, but this suggests that more needs to be done.”