Arsonists who started a huge gorse fire near Newry have been slammed for recklessly endangering the lives of firemen at a time when emergency services are under pressure.
The blaze at Bernish Viewpoint is believed to have been deliberate.
Firefighters from Newry and Warrenpoint were called to the incident on McDermott Mountain on Sunday afternoon.
Crews remained at the scene for over six hours until the fire, which covered 30 hectares of moorland and gorse, had been fully extinguished using specialist equipment and techniques.
Flames and billowing smoke dominated the skyline.
Among those who witnessed the drama was Justin McNulty, an SDLP MLA for Newry and South Armagh, who said those responsible need to think seriously about their actions.
He said: “I saw this fire myself and it was a sad sight to watch members of the fire service having to be on the mountain for four or five hours because of someone’s deliberate actions.
“We are in the middle of an extreme crisis that is only going to get worse and our emergency services will be needed like never before.
“Reckless acts like this put unnecessary strain on the resources of our emergency services and people who think this is funny or a bit of craic need to think seriously about what they are doing.”
Sinn Fein MLA for the area Liz Kimmins also condemned those responsible.
She added: “This large gorse fire placed a strain on the emergency services at a time when they are already under intense pressure.
“Those responsible for this gorse fire showed complete and utter disregard for public safety. That is particularly concerning at this time when public safety concerns should be paramount.
“This is a disgrace and those who have started this gorse fire should be ashamed of themselves.
“Not only do these reckless actions put lives at risk, but they are also diverting the vital resources of the emergency services at this crucial time.”
Last year the Fire Service dealt with over 3,000 gorse fires, with the cost running to hundreds of thousands of pounds.