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Locals fought to save homes as Tyrone gorse fires raged

Arsonists responsible for a blaze that raged across acres of countryside in Co Tyrone, leaving homes at risk, have been branded reckless.

Firefighters battled for several hours to bring the large blaze at Loughmacrory near Omagh under control.

Crews were alerted to the inferno spread across seven miles just before 10pm on Wednesday evening.

At one stage the flames came within metres of homes.

Around 25 locals used shovels, beaters and water carriers to prevent the properties from catching fire.

Dramatic images showed the flames reaching into the night sky.

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Firefighters battle a two-day gorse fire on Reenaderry Road outside Dungannon

Firefighters battle a two-day gorse fire on Reenaderry Road outside Dungannon

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Firefighters battle a two-day gorse fire on Reenaderry Road outside Dungannon

The fire was eventually brought under control in the early hours of yesterday and the remnants allowed to burn out.

However, Fire Service western area commander Mark Smyth said it could have been much worse.

It is the latest in a series of gorse fires in Tyrone and Fermanagh.

Blazes were also reported this week in Belleek, Plumbridge and Coalisland.

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A view of the gorse fire

A view of the gorse fire

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

A view of the gorse fire

Mr Smyth said: "We have recently responded to a number of significant gorse fires across Northern Ireland, including some in Tyrone.

"This one at Loughmacrory was a large fire that threatened people's homes.

"I want to thank all of the firefighters for their quick action to prevent this becoming more serious and for the support of the local community during the incident."

Mr Smyth appealed for communities to be wary amid the coronavirus emergency. He added: "The Covid-19 pandemic will lead to significant pressures on NIFRS, including a reduction in the number of front line firefighters available for emergency response.

"We would therefore appeal to landowners to support us by not carrying out controlled burning at this time and remind everyone that we are now outside the permitted dates for burning.

"I would also appeal to the wider public to be fire-safe, especially in the countryside."

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A view of the gorse fire

A view of the gorse fire

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

A view of the gorse fire

Loughmacrory is an area of outstanding natural beauty that is covered extensively with gorse.

Local independent councillor Josephine Deehan said those responsible for lighting the fire need to seriously consider their actions.

She said: "That this fire was started deliberately is totally reprehensible.

"Anyone who would countenance doing something like that really needs to consider very carefully what their motives are."

Ulster Unionist councillor Chris Smyth said: "At a time when 99.9% of the population is pulling together and doing what they can to stay safe and protect lives, it beggars belief that there are still people who act so irresponsibly."

Belfast Telegraph