Belfast Telegraph

Gorse blazes swept by wind tough to deal with, warns fire chief as he issues plea to public

Gorse fires in Donegal
Gorse fires in Donegal
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

The Fire Service has warned of the extreme danger caused by the latest outbreak of gorse fires.

A mile-wide inferno in the Mourne Mountains on Sunday night required the evacuation of a caravan park in Newcastle and a response from more than 50 firefighters.

On Monday another outbreak near Glenaan Road in the Glens of Antrim saw 32 personnel dispatched to the scene.

In west Donegal fire crews and hundreds of local volunteers had also managed to contain a huge outbreak by yesterday morning.

Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service group commander Dermot McPoland said it should never be assumed his officers could always contain gorse blazes.

"They can be very difficult to tackle," he explained.

"The remoteness and the terrain makes it very physically demanding for firefighters, never mind the heat and effect the hot weather has on them.

"During all this properties need to be protected and that can take resources away from us.

"With just a bit of wind, a gorse fire can also move at pace overground.

"The flame height and length can be affected by what's burning, which means we will have to modify our tactics to deal with it."

He said those using the countryside had a responsibility to be careful, especially around naked flames.

"If you have a barbecue with you, we'd ask you to be careful of how you extinguish and dispose of it," he added.

"Don't leave them unattended, concentrate on what you're doing, especially if there's family and friends around you.

"You also need to make sure it's cool before moving it and, if possible, keep a bucket of water beside it.

"Another point is to make sure it's on a flat area away from fences, trees, shrubs and sheds."

Police are treating the fire in Newcastle as suspicious and have appealed for witnesses. Mr McPoland continued: "For those who are starting fires deliberately, we'd like to ask them to think about their actions.

"Whenever they set these fires, obviously we're having to redeploy crews from where they're normally based.

"That means they won't be available for calls in those areas.

"They should also think about the risk to themselves if they're caught out by a fast-moving fire, the risk to their neighbours' properties and also to firefighters.

"It's a particularly dangerous type of fire, so we would ask them not to do it."

He added that fire crews in Newcastle and those who were evacuated from their caravans had been fortunate in that a late change in the wind direction prevented a further spread of the flames.

"There is no guarantee that we can contain any fire. We will respond to them, but it could take us time with remote locations and transporting equipment," he added.

"In the meantime, the wind could have an effect on the fire, it could blow it into shrubbery, which could increase the flame and heat."

Figures were not available yesterday on the total number of gorse fires in Northern Ireland this year, or the cost in responding to them. During 2017-18, NIFRS responded to 2,072 gorse fires, which represented a 27% increase from the previous year.

Elsewhere, a fire in Marsden Moor in West Yorkshire was reported to have covered a six- mile area of wildlife habitat.

The National Trust said it was the sixth fire to have broken out in the area this year and was most likely caused by a discarded barbecue on Sunday evening.

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