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300 gorse fires here in just two weeks

By Claire McNeilly

Firefighters have dealt with more than 300 gorse fires in Northern Ireland in under a |fortnight — causing untold environmental damage.

On Monday a huge gorse fire, which led to nine homes being evacuated overnight, was set alight on purpose.

Nine appliances and 50 firefighters battled for three hours to bring the blaze near Whitehead in Co Antrim under control.

Several houses at Quay Lane were evacuated — some of which were just 35 metres from the fire, which covered around 10,000 square metres.

Shockingly, as crews tackled the blaze they picked up thermal imaging pictures of people lighting even more fires.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, a spokeswoman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said arsonists were putting Northern Ireland’s wildlife at risk.

“At this time of year, birds are just starting to return to breeding sites and to set up territories for nesting,” she said.

“Fire damage will destroy habitats where the birds usually nest.

“Penalties are being increased, and serious offenders may face increased fines and custodial sentences of up to six months.”

Meanwhile, fire crews were also called out to deal with gorse fires at Flagstaff viewpoint, a beauty spot just south of Newry, Co Down, on Sunday. At the same time, another large gorse fire was being fought on the other side of Carlingford Lough.

Similar incidents have also been reported elsewhere in Northern Ireland recently.

A spokeswoman for the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said they were appealing to the public not to deliberately start these fires, which have very serious and unpredictable consequences.

“This exposes everyone to an additional and unnecessary risk.”

The spokeswoman added that some of the fires started have been in locations difficult for fire crews to access.

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