Belfast Telegraph

Gorse blaze firefighters hampered by risk of heat exhaustion

By Mark Bain

Attempts to tackle an extensive gorse fire along the Glenshane Pass yesterday were called off due to the risk of heat exhaustion for firefighters.

Crews were drafted in from across Northern Ireland to tackle a blaze near Ireland's highest pub, the Ponderosa, on the main Belfast to Londonderry route.

Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue confirmed that, during the operation near Dungiven, a team of firefighters walked for an hour towards the fire but were unable to reach the scene, having to return to base because of the risk of heat exhaustion in high temperatures.

Firefighters were alerted at 4.57am yesterday and crews from Dungiven, Maghera, Magherafelt, Kilrea, Cookstown and Ballymena were all tasked to the area, along with a specialist Command Support Unit. Smoke had been noticed coming from behind what is known locally as the White Mountain.

It is understood the fire was directly across from the Ponderosa Bar along the main Glenshane Road.

The fire front was around one mile in length and consisted of five separate blazes. Emergency crews were on standby to move into the area again last night as temperatures fell.

Drones were sent up to evaluate the best entry points to tackle the ongoing blaze.

Last year, NIFRS attended 2,072 gorse fires across Northern Ireland, representing a 27% increase from the previous year.

Since April 1 this year, NIFRS has responded to 934 gorse fire incidents. NIFRS is reminding everyone to act responsibly and to heed fire safety advice to prevent gorse fires from starting.

NIFRS Wildfire Lead, group commander Mark Smyth, said: "The current spell of dry, sunny weather is providing a tinderbox landscape with conditions ripe for gorse fires to take hold.

"Often the dry conditions, like we have seen in recent weeks, can lead to an increase in the number of gorse fires we attend," he added.

"Whilst many of these are started deliberately, gorse fires can also be caused accidentally by something as simple as throwing a cigarette from a car window, leaving a glass bottle on the ground or not extinguishing a barbecue properly."

Belfast Telegraph

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